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Nuclear vigil must be maintained

"When you got nothin', you got nothin' to lose."

-Bob Dylan->

Rushing living groups last week had me thinking seriously about nuclear weapons. According to some analysts, by the time I am a junior, Iraq may possess an offensive nuclear capability, and may very well flex its military muscle in an attack on another neighbor state. While picking on the Iraqis for their invasion of Kuwait seems to be in vogue right now, the crisis in the Mideast raises complex, less well-defined questions on the entire structure of the world's nuclear deterrent in a post-Cold War world.

In the good old days of mass hysteria and East-West cryogenics, most politicians had a good idea where any large-scale war between the United States and the Soviet Union, the two major nuclear powers, would end up. Massive retaliation, one of the earliest US nuclear strategies, and Mutual Assured Destruction, one of the most recent, both implied that an aggressive act on the part of either superpower would provoke a massive counter response, until the original aggressor was destroyed. For 40 years this threat was real enough to prevent the US-Soviet engagement in Central Europe which world leaders of the 1940s had assumed would occur in the near future. Conflicts between smaller nations allied with the superpowers seemed guaranteed to end in superpower war, and this deterrent kept many smaller skirmishes from exploding into holocausts.

But just as old battle lines seem to be crumbling with the Berlin Wall, the security of the Cold War melted in the summer heat. World nuclear proliferation now centers less on nukes for superpowers, and more on the development of crude weapons by Third World nations which, unlike the United States or Soviet Union, would probably use them. Iraq is just the first of many nations which will now try to stretch outward and develop offensive nuclear capabilities quietly enough to avoid angering a superpower and provoking retaliation. Such nations, once possessing nuclear weapons, would be apt to use them if faced with certain defeat on the battlefield with a neighbor. Iraq, believed to lack nuclear weapons, has vowed to use chemical and biotoxic devices if faced with an onslaught from the United States or Israel. In addition, some Third World nations may have nothing to loose and everything to gain by launching a preemptive nuclear strike on a neighbor, and the superpowers would have few options in response to such an act of aggression short of war. With East and West less willing to protect their turf all over the globe, citizens of the world have more to fear, not less.

A multinational commitment to ending proliferation, backed by the threat of military action, is now necessary to safeguard the planetary society and environment. Following a non-aggression pact between the United States and the Soviet Union, these and other nations should establish an international union aimed at promoting peaceful international nuclear research, and discouraging through military means, covert development of nuclear technology or the construction of weapons. Concurrently, the large nuclear and conventional forces of the United States and USSR would be modernized and scaled down.

In such a deterrent scheme, the nuke union would support, through monetary and technological aid, the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, but respond to the development of weaponry with diplomatic warnings, and, if all else fails, a tactical conventional or nuclear strike aimed at eliminating the offensive nuclear capability of that nation. Such a plan would force nuclear research out into the open.

In the future, most nations will have the ability and materials to build nuclear weapons. Some deterrent must keep them from exercising this option. Nations without nukes would have two choices: Receive aid from the union and develop a peaceful nuclear capability faster and cheaper than they could have alone, or secretly build weapons and face destruction. Nations without nuclear weapons would not need to build them, because the union could, in effect, guarantee their protection from nuclear assault. If a credible threat existed, few nations would gamble with their sovereignty by building weapons.

This brings us to the most difficult part of any deterrent framework: insuring the integrity of the arrangement. Even today the Soviet military command fears confrontation with the United States because we used nuclear weapons to end World War II and probably frighten the Soviets. In the world of low-intensity conflicts in the Third World, our resolve has yet to be tested. Iraq will be the first experiment.