Stemming the Nuclear Tide
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the global chess match that is nuclear proliferation, the highest
priority must be placed on containing the spread of such horrific
by Albert Carnesale
Illustration by Pep Montserrat
Since September 11, 2001, Americans
have focused on securing our homeland against terrorism. But not
all forms of terrorist threats are equal. The gravest by far is
that posed by the use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), which
comprise nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. And of these,
only nuclear weapons threaten the very survival of our nation.
Accordingly, highest priority should be given to preventing the
further spread of nuclear-weapons capabilities.
The current global distribution of nuclear weapons
merits both cautious optimism and warranted concern. On the positive
side, the past three decades have brought little change in the
number of countries having nuclear weapons. In 1974, there were
five “declared” nuclear-weapons states: the United
States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, France and China.
Israel and South Africa probably also had nuclear arsenals at
that time, and India tested a nuclear-explosive device that very
The ensuing 30 years have seen the addition of
Pakistan and probably North Korea to the list, and the subtraction
of South Africa, which rolled back its nuclear program. Thus,
over the past three decades, the number of countries on the nuclear
list has grown by only one, from eight to nine. Iran appears to
have forestalled its efforts to become number 10.
Another source of optimism is that production of
nuclear weapons is neither easy nor quick. Even though nuclear
technology has been around since the 1940s, it remains difficult
and time-consuming to produce the essential weapons-grade plutonium
or highly enriched uranium.