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Annual Report 1998

General Intro

Sustainable World

Secure World


Common Security

Eliminate Nuclear Weapons

Radioactive Material

Establish the Costs of Being a Nuclear State

Financial Info

Secure World Intro

On May 11, 1998, a newly elected Indian government shook the world by testing three nuclear weapons under the Thar Desert near the border with Pakistan. India conducted two additional small nuclear explosions on May 13. Predictably, Pakistan followed suit on May 28 and May 30, claiming to have detonated six nuclear devices. This was one more than India, revealing the political psychology of the Indo-Pak relationship. Outside observers questioned the quantity and explosive magnitudes of the claimed tests, but few doubted that grave new challenges had emerged.

In the global ecosystem natural phenomena provide indicators of threats to sustainability or of dangers ameliorated. Plant and animal species pass into extinction; weather becomes more extreme; potable water supplies shrink; or, more positively, the ozone hole begins to heal. The natural environment serves as a mirror in which we can examine the impacts of human activity and the signs of ill health or reinvigoration. These are the benchmarks of global sustainability, as described in the Foundation's Sustainable World Program.

However, in assessing the dangers posed by nuclear weapons and related technologies, the signs of progress or regress can be found only in human behavior - the actions of political leaders, atomic scientists, military officers, parliaments and societies. Thus, in assessing the domain of the Foundation's Secure World Program, human actions and interactions indicate the trends that must be augmented or reversed to heighten international security.

The Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests indicated much about developments within these two states, and the course of relationships between them and the rest of the world. India's decision to test nuclear weapons after twenty-four years of unprecedented self-restraint stemmed from many factors. India's weaponeers - an elite cadre of scientists and engineers - wanted to assess their laboratory designs, show their prowess, and buttress their morale and institutional standing. New political leaders wanted to show their courage and will to make the nation a major power. They wanted to overcome the image of India as a poor, struggling post-colonial state. Opinion-shapers wanted their nation to "speak" the language of Realpolitik so that India would be taken seriously by the global elites who manage the international security system. Flexing the nuclear muscle also signified that India would not simply tolerate China's growing power and assistance to Pakistan's nuclear and missile programs. For their part, Pakistan's leaders ordered tests to show that they could equalize India and rebuff any intimidation. Nuclear weapons offered a solace to a population suffering endemic political-economic crisis.

In both countries, then, the tests indicated how nuclear weapons can serve as symbols of strength, power and prestige that can perhaps compensate for failure to achieve the economic development and political progress desired by citizens. For the international community, the tests highlighted the need not only to resolve festering conflicts between India and Pakistan and India and China, but also the need to find more constructive sources of hope and national confidence in states that are not thriving in the post-Cold War international system.

This need applies not only to India and Pakistan, but also to Russia, North Korea, Iran, Iraq and other states possessing nuclear capability and uncertain international standing. In 1998, Iran and North Korea -- two beleaguered, isolated and often bellicose states -- alarmed the international community by testing advanced ballistic missiles. Meanwhile, former-superpower Russia found itself suffering economic collapse amidst political dysfunction. Russia's identity and self-confidence were further undermined by the eastward expansion of NATO and the decay of Russia's military infrastructure and nuclear command and control systems. In this context, Russia increased its reliance on nuclear weapons as the last reserve of great power status. The Russian Duma refused to ratify the START II Treaty. Russian entities offered assistance to Iran in developing ballistic missile capabilities.

Many factors and interests motivated all of the foregoing developments, but they indicated that a competitive international system in which the strong and well off leave the weak and poor to fend for themselves cannot eradicate the dangers of nuclear proliferation and war over time. Some states that feel neglected or trod-upon by what they perceive as the arrogant exertions of the rich and strong will be tempted to seek influence through missiles and weapons of mass destruction. To deal with these states, reassurance is as important as intimidation; mutual threat reduction as imperative as military superiority.

On paper, the international community recognized these dangers in the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which called for the five acknowledged nuclear powers to pursue in good faith the elimination of their nuclear arsenals as part of the bargain by which others would not seek these weapons. Whether or not the nuclear powers took this obligation seriously, and even though India, Israel and Pakistan still have not signed the treaty, the central logic was that the threats posed by nuclear weapons would not be contained if the strong continued indefinitely to lord them over the weak.

The dichotomy of the nuclear "haves" versus the "have nots" could be maintained during the Cold War when the central stand-off between the two largest nuclear powers limited the aspirations and maneuverability of other players. However, when the Cold War ended at the beginning of the 1990s, hope emerged that nuclear weapons would be devalued and the world could consign threats of nuclear annihilation to a now-completed chapter of history. By 1992 indicators abounded that this might happen. The Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty eliminated a whole class of nuclear weapons from Europe. The START I Treaty shrunk Russian and American long-range nuclear systems by more than 30 percent. The START II Treaty, negotiated in 1992, called for reductions down to 3,500-3,000 long-range systems. American and Soviet leaders George Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev unilaterally and reciprocally withdrew tactical nuclear weapons from deployment and took additional strategic forces off alert. South Africa unilaterally announced that it had destroyed the handful of nuclear weapons it had secretly built, and acceded to the NPT. Brazil and Argentina agreed to abandon nuclear weapon ambitions and implemented a Latin American nuclear-weapon-free zone. In 1996, the recognized nuclear-weapon states and 144 others signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Yet, by the end of 1998, it appeared that the leaders of the international system had lost the creative energy and determination to fulfill the post-Cold War promise in the nuclear realm. The Russian-American nuclear reduction process had stalled. The test ban treaty remained unratified by the U.S., Russia, and China. The U.S. and Russia seemed inclined to broaden, rather than narrow, the role of nuclear deterrence. China was modernizing its nuclear arsenal. All of this was in an environment where none of the nuclear powers posed a threat of military aggression against the other. Rather than use this situation to find fundamental solutions to ongoing nuclear dangers, heads of state and cabinet officials in leading countries paid more attention to other domestic and international crises.

If nothing else, the events of this year indicated that renewed vigor must be found for protecting humankind from nuclear proliferation and accidental or purposeful nuclear war. In the absence of governmental leadership, this vigor along with creative proposals for redressing the nuclear danger must come from other sources: independent experts, retired officials, citizen diplomats, civil society leaders, and grassroots activists around the world. These are the actors that the W. Alton Jones Foundation seeks to support.

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