How The War In Iraq Spurred A New Nuclear Arms Race
As The World Prepares To Mark The Anniversary Of
Hiroshima, Iran Is Poised To Go Nuclear Amid A New Global Arms Race
By Anne Penketh
The Independent - UK
Tomorrow at 8.15am, a minute's silence will reverberate around the
world. The people of Japan will commemorate the victims of the first atomic
bomb, which was dropped by an American B-29 on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945.
Half a world away, in Tehran, the new hard man of Iranian politics,
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, will take the oath of office before the
country's parliament. His presidency heralds a new era of uncertainty in
Iran's fraught relations with the West over its nuclear ambitions.
In Beijing, urgent talks on curbing North Korea's nuclear weapons
programme are close to collapse. And in Pakistan, efforts are still being
made to roll up the world's biggest nuclear proliferation scandal. Sixty
years after Hiroshima, whose single bomb killed 237,062 people, a new
nuclear arms race has begun.
A crisis is deepening with Iran over its suspected nuclear weapons
activities. Tehran is threatening to resume uranium conversion next week,
prompting an emergency meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency
which could result in Iran being referred to the UN Security Council for
At the six-party talks in Beijing, North Korea is refusing to
abandon a nuclear weapons programme that could lead to another mushroom
cloud over Asia.
International investigators are struggling to wrap up the lucrative
black market that spread a web of proliferation across at least two
continents thanks to the greed of one man: the father of Pakistan's nuclear
The scientist A Q Khan, who sold nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya, and
possibly others, is now under house arrest.
Al-Qa'ida has still not been vanquished in its hideouts, while there
are still fears that the terrorists could be working on the production of a
" dirty" bomb that would spread radiation and panic in major cities.
In the light of the war on Iraq, which did not have nuclear weapons,
second-tier nations have judged that North Korea was spared invasion because
of its nuclear deterrent, and drawn their own strategic conclusions.
International attempts to renew a global pact banning the
proliferation of nuclear weapons have foundered. In short, the system of
safeguards aimed at preventing a repeat of the horrors of Hiroshima is in
The review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) by 189
states collapsed two months ago amid recriminations and accusations that the
nuclear five had no intention of living up to their treaty commitments to
pursue nuclear disarmament.
All signs are that the treaty intended to protect the world from
nuclear peril is dead. Pyongyang has pulled out, boasting that it now has
nuclear weapons, and other members such as Iran, Egypt and South Korea have
been caught cheating.
But the regime had already been seriously undermined by states that
remained outside the NPT and became nuclear powers: Israel, India and
Pakistan. The NPT review at the UN in the spring provided a timely
opportunity to tighten nuclear safeguards. Instead, the month-long
conference turned into a bitter slanging match in which the US
administration ignored its own record and turned up the heat on Iran and
At the heart of the four-decades-old NPT is a "grand bargain". The
five nuclear powers - US, Britain, France, Russia and China - agreed to work
towards nuclear disarmament. In return, the non-nuclear states gave up any
ambition to develop nuclear weapons; they agreed to open up all their
facilities to inspection; and in return they were guaranteed the benefits of
peaceful nuclear technology.
The big five have always been open to the charge of hypocrisy.
Behind the rhetoric of disarmament, they have tried everything in their
power to prevent second-tier powers from obtaining nuclear arms, while
clinging on to their own nuclear arsenals despite strategic cuts. Both the
US and Britain are upgrading: the Bush administration is developing nuclear
"bunker busters" that can strike deep underground, while Britain has ordered
a new generation of Trident missiles.
With the NPT seriously weakened, the challenge now is to keep the
genie in the bottle, as regional rivalries in the Middle East and Asia risk
For the Bush administration, openly hostile to a UN solution, the
answer has been talk or bomb: negotiate with states that already have a
weapon (such as North Korea), or to take preemptive strikes against those
that do not (such as Iraq). US officials say acting outside the treaty has
produced results: it brought Libya back into the fold in 2003, when Colonel
Muammar Gaddafi decided to scrap his weapons of mass destruction.
Yet this approach contains the risk of opening the path to nuclear
blackmail, which is how North Korea has coaxed the West into compensating
the hermit state in return for concessions on its nuclear programme.
As with Iran, negotiations have stalled on the North Korean
insistence that it has the right to a civilian programme, if it renounces
Iran, an NPT member which insists on its treaty right to pursue
nuclear power, has been infuriated by US co-operation with India, a
non-member of the NPT, which blasted its way into the nuclear "club" in
tit-for-tat tests with Pakistan in 1998.
In a world no longer guided by a universally accepted regime,
countries are weighing the nuclear option. Arab states consider
nuclear-armed Israel, and are drawing their own conclusions. Iran is hemmed
in by hostile neighbours such as Israel and Pakistan. A nuclear test by
North Korea could prompt Taiwan and Japan to follow down that road.
Preoccupied with Iraq, the US has decided to follow a diplomatic
route in dealing with Iran. But if the Security Council fails to reach
agreement on punishment for Tehran's infringement, the military option would
Israel has made no secret of its intention to halt militarily the
Iranian nuclear weapons programme, as it did when it struck Iraq's Osiraq
reactor in 1981, delaying but not ending Saddam Hussein's nuclear quest. But
if Israel did strike, the Iranians could hit back anywhere in the region.
Its nuclear programme would go underground, and the hand of the hardliners
in Tehran would be reinforced. As one expert put it, an Israeli attack would
be " a free pass for the mullahs".
The question now is whether nuclear deterrence works. The threat of
American nuclear attack, albeit veiled, did not deter Saddam Hussein from
invading Kuwait. On the other hand, North Korea's boasting of a nuclear
arsenal saved it from invasion. And nuclear weapons have not - yet - been
used on the battlefield.
Today, the "official" nuclear powers could annihilate the world many
times over. And 40 other countries have the know-how to join their club.
Sixty years after Hiroshima, who can say with confidence: "Never again"?
60 years since the first use of a nuclear weapon in war. 160,000
people died when the bomb was dropped at 8.15am on Hiroshima, with another
77,062 dying later.
$27bn is spent each year by the US on nuclear weapons and related
11, 000 active, deliverable nuclear weapons in the world. The US has
6,390, Russia 3,242 and Britain 200
15,654 sq miles, total land area used by US nuclear weapons bases
4 other states known or thought to have nuclear weapons: India,
Israel, Pakistan, North Korea
5 acknowledged nuclear states: China, France, Russia, United
Kingdom, United States
1 number of islands vaporised by nuclear testing: Elugelab,
16 in length of 'Davy Crockett', the smallest nuclear weapon ever
40 states with technical ability to make nuclear weapons, including
Egypt and South Korea
30,000 Kazakh conscripts served at Semipalatinsk, the Soviet test
site. There were 456 tests conducted between 1945 and 1991 at the site
100 maximum number of those Kazakh conscripts still alive today
200 estimated number of nuclear weapons possessed by Israel
0 estimated number of nuclear weapons possessed by all the Arab
100,000 people were members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
150 estimated number of nuclear weapons possessed by India
75 estimated number of nuclear weapons possessed by Pakistan
40,000 people are currently members of CND
900 years is the time it will take for radioactive elements in
Pripyat, near Chernobyl, to decay to safe levels following the disaster 19
© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.