Nation: The Nonproliferation Treaty: Another Step

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Each of the parties to the treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.

—Article VI

THAT key clause of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty expresses what is still barely even a dream. For more than 20 years, the threat of nuclear annihilation has hung over the world, and the nightmare remains undiminished. Quoting a Chinese proverb, John Kennedy said of the 1963 test-ban treaty: "A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step." Last week the U.S. Senate took another step, voting 83-15 to approve NPT—a pact that would forbid all signatory nations that are not already nuclear powers from using atomic energy for anything but peaceful purposes. Like the earlier ban on testing nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, NPT is a beginning.

U.S. approval did not come easily. It took four years of intricate negotiations, amid resentment among the nuclear have-nots that the U.S. and the Soviet Union had agreed privately on a draft and then presented it as a fait accompli to the other nations represented in Geneva. The Senate was about to consider ratification last summer when the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia revived cold war suspicions and soured hopes for cooperation between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. As campaigner, Richard Nixon called for a delay in ratification until feelings had cooled. As President, he pressed the Senate for approval in order to ease the way for arms-limitation discussions with the Soviets. -

Even the most fervent defenders of NPT concede that the treaty is imperfect. While three of the five nuclear powers—the U.S., the U.K. and the U.S.S.R.—are parties to it, France and China are not. Yet Charles de Gaulle's treasured force de frappe and Mao Tse-tung's primitive warheads do not now constitute first-rank threats, and the treaty at least ensures that neither will receive outside aid in further development of nuclear weaponry. Moreover, one U.S. official speculates that without NPT the number of nuclear-armed powers would triple in ten years. Among the nations best equipped to build nuclear bombs if they so decide: West Germany, Israel, Sweden, India and Japan.

While West Germany will probably ratify the treaty, NPT poses a special problem for Bonn. Formerly, international pressures appeared sufficient to keep the Germans from building atomic bombs—indeed, in 1955 they renounced any such intention. Now, however, some German political leaders, notably Finance Minister Franz Josef Strauss, are having second thoughts. Strauss, with more than a little hyperbole, has denounced the treaty as a disaster for West Germany, or "a Versailles of cosmic proportions." The most serious German objection, shared by the Japanese, is that a highly industrialized nation needs nuclear know-how to keep abreast of its competitors in modern technology. NPT commits the nuclear powers to help others in the peaceful applications of atomic energy, but there is apprehension that the international inspection teams required by NPT will learn of any technical breakthroughs in nuclear engineering, and thus remove the competitive advantage instantly.

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