Set a Deadline to End Nuclear Testing

Article excerpt

WHEN the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council - Britain, China, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States - meet again to limit the spread of dangerous weapons, they should try to set a date for ending their own tests of the most dangerous of them all: nuclear weapons. The five just conferred for two days in Paris to begin considering proposals to rein in arms sales and the proliferation of chemical and nuclear weapons. But they left off their agenda an important proposal that could help inhibit near-nuclear countries from testing their experimental devices to see how they work - a world-wide ban on all nuclear-weapon testing.

The 1963 test ban treaty only prohibits tests in space, the oceans, or the atmosphere; it allows underground tests to continue. The Bush administration advocates a gradual, step-by-step approach to end testing by the United States, Britain, and the Soviets.

In perhaps a decade, the US would be ready for talks to reduce the size of tests below the present level of 10 times the yield of the Hiroshima bomb. Other such steps would follow later - until, at some distant and unspecified date, the three would end their testing when nuclear weapons were no longer needed.

A quicker end is advocated by most of the developing countries of the world. They organized a conference this year to amend the 1963 treaty immediately to end all tests. This approach was vigorously opposed by Britain and the US and, like the first approach, did not even include China and France, two nuclear-weapon powers now conducting tests.

Neither approach is likely to end testing in the foreseeable future. We propose a middle way: The five avowed nuclear-weapon powers - the same five who are permanent members of the Security Council - should agree on a certain date, say 1995, for ending all their tests. They should also begin negotiating a treaty to ban all tests by any country.

The 1963 test ban was produced by negotiations between Britain, the USSR, and the US. China and France both thought it was aimed at them because they were at early stages in their own nuclear-weapon programs. Both conducted atmospheric tests in defiance of the 1963 treaty for years and have refused to join it since. Both are now continuing their testing underground.

France has suggested that it would not be the last to stop testing. China's official position is that the USSR and the US must first end testing, production, and deployment of nuclear weapons, and make drastic cuts, before China would agree to limit or reduce its nuclear weapons. But it has recently shown flexibility in talks among the five in Paris and at the UN Security Council, and in those among the 39 members of the Geneva disarmament conference. Meanwhile, a host of factors have pushed the USSR and the US toward satisfying China's preconditions: cutbacks in nuclear deployments and weapons to fulfill agreements with allies, reduced defense budgets, and arms control agreements such as INF, START, and likely follow-ons. …