US Pursuit of Nuclear Non-Proliferation: Check and Checkmate

Manpreet Sethi,Research Officer, IDSA


The pursuit of nuclear non-proliferation is indeed a laudable objective and one that should be on the agenda of every nation. However, among the countries where the issue has attracted maximum attention and where often hype has been generated over efforts to control nuclear proliferation, stands the United States of America. Every American Administration since the days of President Truman has professed a special commitment towards the attainment of non-proliferation. Each presidency has attempted to leave its own unique imprint on the country's nuclear non-proliferation policy either by facilitating the conclusion of treaties to that effect, persuading a maximum number of countries to endorse these treaties or through some other unilateral, bilateral or multilateral initiatives.

The pursuit of this objective has, nevertheless, never been allowed to stand in the way of securing and safeguarding American core interests. Both have gone along at different levels with American nuclear strategy remaining unaffected by the broader foreign policy objective of promoting international non-proliferation. Consequently, pledges on nuclear non-proliferation have been secured from other countries in a bid to check horizontal proliferation, deemed to be a major threat to international peace and stability. Meanwhile, the qualitative and quantitative refinement of the American nuclear arsenal has continued unchecked.

Such contradictions in American policy have carried on for decades and during the Cold War it was never really seriously objected to, nor minutely scrutinised by other countries. At the time, it perhaps suited both the superpowers as well as the rest of the international community to keep nuclear deterrence limited to being primarily a bilateral, or at best, a limited affair. Therefore, horizontal non-proliferation was pursued vigorously and adopted without too much demur by nations who either did not perceive any major threats or those whose security was guaranteed by other nuclear powers. With the end of the Cold War, however, it was anticipated that the USA and Russia, no longer as ideologically distant as earlier, would take steps to curb their tendencies towards vertical nuclear proliferation. With horizontal non-proliferation already having come to encompass a whopping 187 countries under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and with a diminishing rationale for vertical proliferation, nuclear disarmament was thought of as an achievable prospect in the early years of this decade. This feeling, to some extent, also contributed to the granting of indefinite and unconditional extension to the NPT when it came up for review after having completed 25 years of its existence in 1995. A renewal of the commitment of the non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS) to non-proliferation was secured with a simultaneous promise by the nuclear weapon states (NWS) to undertake a determined pursuit "of systematic and progressive efforts to reduce nuclear weapons globally, with the ultimate goals of eliminating those weapons...."1

The promise actually only reiterated the obligation to achieve nuclear disarmament as already enshrined in Article VI of the NPT. Yet, it was hoped that the NWS, led by the US, the main architect of the non-proliferation regime and the prime motivator behind its extension, would exhibit their resolve to do so "in good faith". However, some of the recent activities undertaken by the USA, unilaterally or in collusion with its allies, certainly seem to have belied the above hope. Rather, the actions have been undertaken paying but scant regard to the pernicious effects they could, and surely would, have on the robustness of nuclear non-proliferation. In fact, some are even tantamount to undercutting the NPT's very existence and one wonders whether the chances of securing non-proliferation would not progressively recede in the coming years.

This article attempts to take a brief look at the origin of the concept of nuclear non-proliferation in order to trace its parentage to the USA. It then documents some of the recent American and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) acts that appear to be bent on destroying their very own creation. It concludes by establishing that non-proliferation cannot thrive in the absence of its sibling, the concept of nuclear disarmament. Unless the former is rooted in the latter, there is no hope of its eternal survival. Nuclear proliferation shall continue as long as even one state has nuclear weapons and no amount of NPTs, or CTBTs (Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty) are going to be able to guarantee non-proliferation. Nuclear disarmament can be the only fool- proof alternative to this scenario and the sooner the powers-that-be accept this fact, the safer it will be for the rest of the nations.

The Birth of Non-Proliferation

The idea of nuclear non-proliferation germinated soon after the realisation of the destructive potential of the atom itself. Research on harnessing the power in the atom which was progressing as a multinational enterprise at the turn of the 20th century, soon got rigidified into secret national projects once scientists began to highlight the possibility of developing an atomic bomb. The race then began to be the first to reach the nuclear weapon goalpost. A justification for accelerating efforts in this direction was then provided by the unfolding political circumstances that were pushing nations inexorably into a world war.

The scramble to be the first to possess the weapon ended with the USA developing the atomic bomb and deciding to use it on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ostensibly to put an end to World War II. However, even before the bombs had been dropped, the scientists and some government officials had become aware of the political ramifications of the new weapon. They were cognisant of the fact that it would bring about a widespread transformation in international relations of the future. The US secretary of war at that time, Henry L. Stimson, assembled a committee in May 1945 to discuss post-War atomic energy planning in which he spoke of the atomic bomb as having brought about a "revolutionary change in the relations of man to the universe".2 Therefore, he cautioned President Truman that the weapon "has placed a certain moral responsibility upon us, which we cannot shirk without very serious responsibility for any disaster to civilization".3

President Truman too echoed similar sentiments. In his radio address of August 9, 1945, he proclaimed, "We must constitute ourselves trustees of this new force".4 However, how the US was going to fulfill the responsibility was not very clear then. The American Administration was divided mainly along two lines of thought. Some were in favour of the USA retaining the monopoly of the weapon by following a policy of strict secrecy, or in other words, by practising a policy of non-proliferation. In fact, these efforts can be traced right back to the days of the Manhattan Project itself. While the project was a three-nation joint endeavour, its overall charge rested with an American General, Leslie R. Groves. He has himself admitted to having made conscious attempts to narrowly compartmentalise the British and Canadian efforts so as to deprive them of the total knowledge of the making of the bomb. He was confident that America's exclusive possession of the bomb would last up to twenty years.

The other strain of opinion, however, had the support of people such as Vannevar Bush, Stimson and Dean Acheson who advocated accommodation with the Soviet Union on the bomb. They opined that America's nuclear advantage was going to be only temporary and that it could be put to the best use by initiating negotiations on some sort of international controls, either by directly approaching the Soviets or by initiating UN action. It was their contention that the US government should take the lead in proposing a plan to spare the world a nuclear arms race or a nuclear war.

This responsibility did seem to weigh heavily upon the American shoulders, especially in the years immediately after 1945, and the basic trend then appeared to be to strive for some sort of an international arrangement that could eventually lead to the renunciation of the use and development of the bomb. This was the idea projected in the Truman-Attlee-King Declaration of November 1945. The Declaration called for the establishment of a UN commission to prepare recommendations for the "elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons and of all the other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction."5

An ingenious formula for international control of atomic energy was first put forward by the Acheson-Lilienthal Committee in 1946. It provided for the creation of an international body, the Atomic Development Authority, that would maintain a monopoly of fissionable material and distribute it only in "denatured" form for peaceful purposes. Meanwhile, the existing nuclear weapons were to be destroyed and a system of international inspection put in place to alert nations to any violations of the agreement. Unfortunately, nothing came out of this well meaning endeavour and it was succeeded by the Baruch Plan presented to the UN on June 14, 1946. This differed from its predecessor in the sense that it sought the creation of a UN control body that would make an initial survey of raw materials, and punish offending nations. Because the US then enjoyed a large built-in majority in the United Nations and was going to retain control over its nuclear weapons until the final stage of international control, this plan did not appeal to the Soviets. They proposed instead that the US should destroy its nuclear stockpile as a first step.

This is the point from where nuclear disarmament came to take a backseat and there it has remained to this day. Bernard Baruch and other like-minded people took comfort in the fact that America's nuclear monopoly could be sustained for a long time to come. The reality, however, was to prove very different, since the USSR succeeded in exploding its first atomic bomb before the end of the same decade. Motivation for the Soviet atomic bomb may to a large extent be attributed to American obduracy to reach a genuine compromise. This was truly an opportunity lost because to attain nuclear disarmament at that time would logistically have been the easiest, considering that the US itself did not have more than two atomic bombs in its arsenal then, and the Russians had none. However, instead of utilising this opportunity, Baruch and his aides, towards the end of 1946, had begun to advocate that until a treaty for international control was signed, the US should continue to produce more bombs, in order to enhance its bargaining capability vis-à-vis other possible nuclear powers. Consequently, between November 1946 and June 1947, the US nuclear arsenal grew at the rate of two weapons per month and by late 1949, it had reached a figure of nearly 200.

By this time, talk on nuclear disarmament had all but become confined to only a few as the American policy makers sought to adapt themselves to the reality of nuclear proliferation. Thereafter, during the Cold War, it became their endeavour to support, or at least not avert proliferation when it was perceived as bolstering their camp. For instance, the Soviet nuclear test gave a fillip to the Anglo-American-Canadian negotiations on sharing the bomb. Nuclear weapons were to be fabricated in the US and allotted to the UK. Even though this plan had to be scotched some time later, one could not be faulted for questioning the need for the UK to strive for its own independent nuclear arsenal. Given the post-War diplomatic and military alliance between the two nations, it was natural to presume that the British government had little reason to fear the American nuclear monopoly. And yet, the UK plunged into an ambitious nuclear weapons programme, convinced that its acquisition of the bomb was of supreme importance to securing an influential role in the international arena.

The above example goes to prove the basic logic behind nuclear proliferation. When one nation has the weapon and the other perceives it as some sort of a threat, either to its very existence or to its role in international affairs, then it has no alternative but to press ahead with its efforts leading to its possession. This is the motivation that pushed France and China onto the path in the 1960s, and India and Pakistan in the 1990s. And conversely, it is the lack of this motivation that can make nations give up their plans to put the atom to military use, as has happened in the case of South Africa, Argentina, Brazil and Ukraine.

Recent US Actions and Their Impact on Non-Proliferation

Right from the early years of Clinton's presidency, non-proliferation emerged as a major plank of American foreign policy. His predecessor, George Bush, had succeeded in unearthing the Iraqi nuclear endeavour and started the process to end it. Clinton hoped to carry it to completion, a desire that nevertheless, remains unfulfilled after nearly nine years of intrusive verifications and destructive military strikes. However, the Clinton Administration does like to advertise some of its other accomplishments aiming at non-proliferation. The most prominent among these is considered to be the realisation of the extension of the NPT in 1995. The fate of the treaty had then appeared uncertain, troubled by the possibility of some nations opposing its indefinite extension. The US then took it upon itself to ensure the treaty's indefinite and unconditional extension. An all out effort was mounted not only to get nations still outside the NPT regime to join it, but also to compel the state parties to extend the NPT. Amongst the other significant achievements of President Clinton on non-proliferation are included efforts to denuclearise Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, the implementation of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) programme in the states formerly comprising the Soviet Union,6 and the successful conclusion of the CTBT.

However, it cannot be overlooked that the Clinton Administration has undertaken a similar, if not a larger number of actions that have added to the clout and legitimacy of nuclear weapons rather than diminishing it. The following paragraphs describe some of these.

Less than two years after President Clinton reaffirmed U.S. commitment to the pursuit of systematic and progressive efforts to reduce nuclear weapons globally at the NPT Extension Conference, he also signed the Presidential Decision Directive 60 in November 1997. The directive affirmed that the US would continue to rely on nuclear arms as a cornerstone of its national security for the "indefinite future." This directive emerged out of a certain kind of thinking that had begun to pervade the US Administration at the time. The same point had been made little more than a year earlier by the 1996 annual report of the Department of Defence released in March 1996. It categorically stated that notwithstanding the transformed international scenario in the post-Cold War period, "strategic nuclear deterrence remains a key US military priority".7 It further laid down two basic requirements that should guide US planning for strategic nuclear forces—"the need to provide an effective deterrent while conforming to treaty-imposed arms limitations, and the need to be able to reconstitute adequate additional forces in a timely manner if conditions require."8

On February 12, 1997, Under Secretary Walter Slocombe reiterated these points in his testimony before the International Security, Proliferation and Federal Services Sub-committee of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. He noted, "Nuclear deterrence, far from being made wholly obsolete, remains an essential, ultimate assurance against the gravest of threats."9 All these statements illustrate the importance US strategic thinking still attaches to the national nuclear arsenal. In fact, this attachment has been amply demonstrated in a number of documents that have originated from within the Clinton Administration over the last half decade.

For instance, the document crafted by the White House detailing a national security strategy for the 21st century has explicitly stated that "nuclear weapons serve as a hedge against an uncertain future, a guarantee of our security commitments to allies and a disincentive to those who would contemplate developing or otherwise acquiring their own nuclear weapons The United States must continue to maintain a robust triad of strategic forces. We must also ensure the continued viability of the infrastructure that supports US nuclear forces and weapons."10 Entrenched in such thinking, Washington has refused to consider making any unequivocal no-first-use pledge. Rather, a German proposal to this effect made earlier this year was immediately squashed.

Recent planning documents of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff contemplate nuclear retaliation against the use of chemical and biological weapons. This clashes directly with the US pledge first initiated under the Carter Administration in June 1978, and reaffirmed during the indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995, that committed the nation to granting a "negative security assurance," thereby pledging not to use nuclear weapons against the NNWS that are parties to the NPT. However, under the new nuclear strategy, even an NNWS that resorts to the use of chemical or biological weapons could invite a nuclear strike. Also, a recent Pentagon "Doctrine for Joint Theatre Operations" suggests the potential use of nuclear weapons against non-state actors such as terrorists operating from foreign territory.

In order to be prepared to meet these new threats, besides the other conventional ones, the USA continues to allocate huge amounts for defence spending. It has been announced that an additional $300 billion would be pumped into the US defence budget by 2003. This statement, however, must be seen in the light of the fact that the US defence budget is already 18 times that of the combined spending of the Pentagon-identified rogue states.11 If the militarily most powerful nation still needs to spend so much for safeguarding its security, then the militarily inferior nations can hardly be expected to have any choice but to increase their budget allocations for national defence.

Even more relevant from the nuclear proliferation point of view is the fact that the US continues to maintain nuclear arsenals on hair-trigger alert, despite the end of the Cold War. Of course, the US has eliminated more than a dozen different types of nuclear warheads, yet during the same period, it has also initiated programmes to develop several new and more lethal warheads, besides modifying those already existing. These include the work being done on the B-61/11, a new earth-penetrating warhead; the research and development of another new warhead to be deployed on the Trident I and II missiles; a refurbishment of the W87, currently used on MX missiles and improvements in the B 83. In addition, it is suspected that two advanced types of novel weapons are under development, possibly in "black" or super-secret, compartmentalised programmes.12 One example of this is a high-power radio frequency warhead and an insertable, modular, warhead package that could be clipped into a variety of missiles, including those that normally carry conventional warheads.

The number of nuclear weapons still pending in American arsenals, besides active operational warheads include spares that are kept at the bases where nuclear weapons are deployed; augmentation or "hedge" warheads for uploading to missiles if needed; and reliability replacements. Besides these categories, the Department of Energy has custody of retired warheads. It also maintains a "strategic reserve" that includes additional warheads that are not counted among the above categories. It has been estimated that if all these additional warheads are included, the total would cross a figure of 10,000.

This despite the fact that the US claims to have brought down its strength of deployed strategic nuclear weapons from 12,000 in 1989 to 8,000 a decade later. However, it needs to be taken into account that the components recovered from these dismantled warheads, in particular the radioactive plutonium pits that provide the explosive capability to nuclear weapons, are still mostly stored in as-is condition at the Pantex facility in Texas. The plans for their disassembly are still at the demonstration level. A decision about when and where to construct a full-scale pit disassembly plant is yet to be taken. Neither has a final decision been made on how to dispose of the plutonium.

As regards nuclear weapons testing, while the U.S. has signed the CTBT, it has not hesitated in violating its spirit, by simultaneously initiating the Stockpile Stewardship and Management Programme (SSMP). In fact, the National Security Strategy makes it amply clear that "the Stockpile Stewardship Programme will guarantee the safety and reliability of our nuclear weapons under the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty". Rather, it will probably provide design capabilities potentially greater than those available during the Cold War since it retains all the traditional facilities such as the weapons laboratories, industrial plants, etc. This also includes the Nevada test site where sub-critical testing is conducted and which is maintained in a state of readiness to rapidly resume full-scale underground testing. The US shall also continue with its National Ignition Facility which attempts to achieve nuclear fusion, besides several other facilities at Los Alamos and Livermore. In fact, at Los Alamos, the Department of Energy plans to spend more than $1 billion on expanding facilities for a substantial nuclear warhead production capacity. In addition, the Stockpile Stewardship Programme intends to use high-powered supercomputers to "provide an integrated nuclear explosion testbed."13 It has been estimated that over the next decade, the US plans to invest $45 billion in this programme—an amount, in inflation-adjusted dollars, well above the average Cold War annual spending for nuclear weapons research, development, testing, and production.14

The construction of more and new kinds of nuclear weapons naturally implies a need for fissile material. The US claims to have ceased production of fissile materials like plutonium and highly-enriched uranium in February 1996. However, its existing stockpiles constitute 85 tons of weapon-grade plutonium, 14.5 tons of fuel and reactor-grade plutonium, and 750 tons of highly enriched uranium.15 Only a small fraction of this has been declared "excess" and even less has been converted to forms where it cannot be used for weapons. Besides, in December 1998, U.S. Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson announced that the United States would produce tritium at the Tennessee Valley Authority's nuclear power plant.16 This was in keeping with the SSMP that stated that all the weapons being considered for the enduring stockpile require tritium replenishment and, therefore, a strategy was developed to bring new production capability on-line.17 The current U.S. stockpile is sufficient to supply 8,400 weapons with tritium until 2010.18 Even if the US were to reduce its total number of warheads to the levels stipulated by START II or START III, it would not need new tritium until 2025 or 2030. However, all these plans have serious proliferation implications.

Another blow to non-proliferation was dealt when after reaffirming its commitment to the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty at Helsinki in March 1997, the American government sought a budget allocation of nearly $4 billion to be spent on the research and development of an effective national ballistic missile defence (BMD) system. The US Congress has enshrined in the national nuclear policy its intention to field a national BMD system. However, it needs to be stated that the US and Russia had signed the ABM-TMD demarcation agreement in September 1997 which clarifies the distinction between systems that the ABM limits and those it does not, and whereunder the USA claims that none of its TMD programmes are in violation of the treaty. Yet the American actions do vitiate the spirit of the treaty and put Russia on the defensive. At the same time, China too feels threatened by an enhanced American missile defence system and feels compelled to respond through an upgradation of its own capabilities. China has criticised the proposed US endeavour as an unacceptable effort designed to achieve strategic superiority in the 21st century. It states, "It will disrupt global and regional strategic balances and stability, and possibly trigger off a new round of arms races."19 Indeed, a new arms race would become inevitable which would slowly encompass new nations and trigger proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Recent NATO actions too do not bode well for the future prospects of the international non-proliferation order. At the Alliance's recently approved new Strategic Concept, it was made explicitly clear that "nuclear weapons make a unique contribution in rendering the risks of aggression against the Alliance incalculable and unacceptable. Thus, they remain essential to preserve peace."20 Such a stance can hardly be expected to act as a disincentive to other countries that do not yet have a nuclear weapons capability, but are desirous of achieving it.

In fact, prior to the NATO Summit held in Washington to celebrate the Alliance's 50th anniversary, NATO members Germany and Canada had pressed for a discussion of the organisation's policy of first use of nuclear weapons—a principle that clashes with a number of politically binding assurances granted by the US, France and UK to the NNWS party to the NPT. However, no change of policy was made on this issue at the summit, a development that does not in any way go to delegitimise the role of nuclear weapons in the coming years.

At the same time, the other NATO principle that holds significance for the future of non-proliferation relates to nuclear sharing. The USA maintains that NATO remains the anchor of American engagement in Europe and the lynchpin of trans-Atlantic security. Consequently, it is clearly stated in the Alliance strategy that the "presence of US conventional and nuclear forces in Europe remains vital to the security of Europe, which is inseparably linked to that of North America."21 Consequently, Washington remains bound to maintaining nearly 100,000 military personnel in Europe to fulfill its commitments towards NATO. Also nuclear weapons are stored in the territory of six NNWS who are also given training in their use. This arrangement is obviously in violation of Articles I and II of the NPT which forbids the transfer and reception of nuclear weapons and its technology between the NWS and NNWS.

The concept of nuclear sharing came in for severe criticism at the third NPT Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) meeting held in May 1999. In fact, in 1995 itself, at the time of the NPT Extension Conference, Mexico had questioned NATO's arrangement for American weapons to be stationed in Europe. At the 1998 2nd PrepCom, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) countries collectively opposed "nuclear sharing for military purposes under any kind of security arrangements." They demanded a complete renunciation of the existing arrangements. However, a month before meeting for the 3rd PrepCom, the new strategic concept ignored all these demands to affirm in para 62 of its document, "The supreme guarantee of the security of the Allies is provided by the strategic nuclear forces of the Alliance, particularly those of the US...."22

The 3rd PrepCom, therefore, witnessed angry outbursts on this issue from a number of countries. Algeria criticised the concept for reaffirming the essential importance of nuclear weapons, thereby contradicting by word and deed the hopes of eventual nuclear disarmament cherished by many countries. Mongolia too cautioned that the NATO action could provoke other NWS to adopt similar policies and the NNWs to question the very utility of the NPT.23 Egypt recommended that the PrepCom should adopt an interpretation of the NPT that would outlaw current NATO practices and possible future European Union nuclear weapons cooperation.24

Another development threatening non-proliferation is seen looming large in the shape of NATO enlargement. NATO itself sees this as a crucial element to safeguard European security against potential threats. However, its decision to take in nine more nations, besides the three new members, is perceived as a threat by others, particularly Russia. The danger from such a move was brought into clearer focus when NATO decided to intervene in Kosovo, bypassing the UN Security Council. US-Russian relations became severely strained over this decision. China too castigated the US-NATO action in Kosovo and was further agitated when three NATO missiles mistakenly struck its embassy in Belgrade. China's ambassador at the 3rd PrepCom accused the US of "trying to build absolute security on the insecurity of others, of undermining international peace and security and impairing efforts towards nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation."25


Adding up to a formidable total, these developments have the potential to spell doom for nuclear non-proliferation. The turn that events took at the 3rd PrepCom provide ample proof that though the NNWS might have granted the NPT an indefinite extension, they are not going to be indefinitely satisfied by the lack of sensitivity of the NWS to genuine non-proliferation and disarmament. Meanwhile, at their individual levels too, countries, both those with and without nuclear weapons, have begun to send feelers that they might not abide by the principles of non-proliferation forever, if the US and its allies continue on the proliferation path. In this context, the following words of the Chinese ambassador reflect a ring of truth, "It is the US and NATO which will provoke the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction".26

On April 29, 1999, Russia's Security Council held a special meeting with President Yeltsin to discuss the Russian nuclear policy. In the wake of the unfurling developments, the meeting reaffirmed nuclear weapons as a "key element" of Russian security and "vowed to continue to maintain and develop, including through sub-critical testing, the strategic arsenal."27 On the same occasion, the Russian president also signed a decree outlining a concept for the development and deployment of tactical nuclear weapons, ostensibly in a bid to overcome the deterioration in Russian conventional weaponry.28 The same day, the Chair of the Duma's Defence Committee urged the explicit adoption of a policy of potential first-use of nuclear weapons. Consequent to the NATO intervention in Yugoslavia, Russia's chances of ratifying START II have all but vanished and this is not a development in favour of promoting non-proliferation at the larger global level.

China continues its efforts at building and refining its nuclear arsenal. Its attempts in this direction, resorting even to espionage in American laboratories, came into focus earlier this year with the release of the report prepared by the Select Committee on US National Security and Military Commercial Concerns with the People's Republic of China. Better known as the Cox Report, it revealed the presence of Chinese intelligence agents in government labs, stealing nuclear weapon secrets in a systematic pattern. The point that this article wishes to make is that recent American actions can only strengthen China's resolve to enhance its nuclear and missile capability and this would in turn have obvious proliferation implications for the South Asian region.

India expressed its frustration at the lack of progress on nuclear disarmament and referred to its growing regional security concerns when it tested nuclear weapons in May 1998. Thereafter, it declared itself a nuclear weapon state and expressed its intention to develop a minimum credible nuclear deterrent. Pakistan too is sure to be engaged in a similar endeavour after demonstrating its nuclear capability soon after the Indian nuclear tests. More recently, in fact, disturbing news has been filtering in of Pakistani attempts to smuggle in nuclear material for weapons. On July 26, 1999, about 20 tons of material and components apparently intended for the Pakistani nuclear weapons programme was intercepted by British customs authorities from a ship on its way from the US. The material included high grade aluminium which figures on the trigger list of dual purpose items that require special licences for export. The high grade aluminium is used for military casings, as a component in missile propellant and more importantly, for the construction of centrifuges for enriching uranium.29

The above only goes to prove that proliferation can continue to form an endless chain, unless the very first link is snapped off. The US first embarked upon the nuclear pathway and triggered off a handful nations to follow suit who in turn ignited the nuclear passions of those who perceived them as potential threats. The situation as it stands today is that America's efforts at checking nuclear proliferation stand checkmated by its own actions. A possible consequence of these could be a breakdown of the non-proliferation regime in the not so distant future, if NPT members begin to doubt the chances of its success. They could not then be blamed for hedging their bets and doubting the wisdom of giving up nuclear weapons that some others were not willing to renounce, and were rather factoring into their national security policies. It is imperative, therefore, that the US take some sort of a meaningful and clear lead towards the realisation of a nuclear weapon-free world. The longer the weapons are available with even a few nations, the greater the chances of their becoming entrenched in the military strategy of many more and, consequently, the greater would be the inertia to get rid of them.



1. NPT Extension Conference, NPT/CONF.1995/32 (Part I).

2. Lawrence S. Wittner, One World Or None: A History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement Through 1953 (Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 1993), p. vii.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid., p. 249.

5. Hewlett and Anderson, The New World, 1939-1949 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1969), pp. 461-466.

6. The CTR programme has been described as the vehicle through which the US would facilitate the deactivation of strategic nuclear delivery systems in the former Soviet Union nations. It seeks to assist Russia in meeting its START obligations.

7. The report as quoted in Office of the Secretary of Defence, Nuclear Weapons Systems Sustainment Programmes, (Washington DC: Department of Defence, May 1997). Emphasis added.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. "A National Security Strategy for a New Century", A White House document, October 1998, as reproduced in Strategic Digest, vol. XXIX, no. 4, April 1999.

11. Douglas Roche, "Analysis of NPT PrepCom III," see <http//>

12. "US Commitment to NPT Article VI—Myths and Realities", a factsheet prepared by NGOs and presented at the third NPT PrepCom, May 1999. See http//>

13. A presentation on Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative (ASCI) at a conference in December 1996, as quoted in the factsheet, Ibid. The ASCI had been launched to support significant improvements in computational and simulation capabilities.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid.

16. Tritium, a radioactive gas with a relatively short half-life is used to increase the explosive power in nuclear weapons.

17. Office of Defence Programmes, The Stockpile Stewardship and Management Programme (Washington DC: Department of Energy, May 1995).

18. n. 12.

19. Roche, n. 11.

20. "The Alliance's Strategic Concept", NATO Press Release, April 24, 1999. As reproduced in Strategic Digest, vol. XXIX, no. 6, June 1999, p. 938. Emphasis added.

21. Ibid.

22. Ibid.

23. "NATO Nuclear Policies Slammed at Non-Proliferation Treaty PrepCom," PENN Press Release, May 11, 1999 at <http//>

24. "Egypt proposes ending NATO nuclear sharing", PENN Press Release, May 12, 1999 at <http//>

25. Roche, n. 11.

26. Ibid.

27. "Russia Stresses Nuclear Weapons as START II Languishes", Disarmament Diplomacy, Issue No. 37, <http//>

28. "Yeltsin Signs Decree on Tactical Nuclear Weapons", Arms Control Today, April/May 1999.

29. Thomas Abraham, "N-Material for Pak Seized in UK," The Hindu, July 26, 1999.