Thu, 25 May 2000

Setback for disarmament

The momentum toward a universal nuclear nonproliferation regime, generated by the end of the Cold War more than a decade ago, has for all practical purposes been lost. Today, genuine global agreement on nuclear nonproliferation, leading ultimately and in time to nuclear disarmament, seems more distant than it ever was in the half century since the U.N. General Assembly adopted an innocuous resolution in November 1959 suggesting a similar goal.

A month-long international conference to review nuclear nonproliferation has just concluded in New York with a declaration that is interminably long on platitudes and critically short on promise of time-bound action. The U.N.- sponsored conference in which nearly 190 members participated was again witness to the unwillingness of the nuclear powers, the U.S., Russia, China, France and England, to go beyond talk of disarmament. The N-5 repeated a meaningless pledge to accomplish the total elimination of their formidable nuclear arsenal but refused to accept a timetable to achieve this.

In the absence of the timetable, the promise to disarm will remain hollow and lack the credibility on which the global effort needs to be founded. The failure of the conference -- the euphoric claims of the chairman can hardly conceal this -- coming amid increasing signs of a return to Cold War rhetoric, confirms a dangerous slide toward insecurity and instability in international relations.

If arms control is not to unravel further, there is urgent need to revive the global movement that, cutting across national borders and ideological barriers, brought about awareness of the threats to humanity posed by the weapons of mass destruction. That campaign, in the sixties, in which India and Indian leaders were in the forefront, was engulfed by the Cold War. Before another intensifies, the international community must act to arrest the current slide to certain mutual destruction.

-- The Hindu, New Delhi