Spread of Nuclear Weapons Worries U.S

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U.S. CONCERNS ABOUT the spread of nuclear weapons go far beyond the Korean Peninsula - to Iran, Iraq, China, Pakistan, Ukraine, Russia and beyond.

Enforcement of international nuclear controls is so leaky that U.S. officials now speak of "counterproliferation" - learning to live with and defend against, rather than stopping, the spread of nuclear weapons technology.

For all the talk about needing to stop North Korea from getting the bomb, the case of Ukraine is an even more immediate worry; it already has about 2,000 nuclear warheads as well as the bombers and missiles to deliver them.

Ukraine inherited the weapons in the breakup of the Soviet Union. On Thursday, the Ukrainian government said police caught six people trying to smuggle nuclear materials, including unspecified items used in atomic weapons, out of the country.

Leonard Spector, a leading U.S. expert on nuclear proliferation, said South Africa's recent decision to openly give up its nuclear arms program was a big plus. But the outlook elsewhere has grown murkier since the Soviet breakup.

"In the old days the problem was contained" by the superpower rivalry, he said. "Now a bit of the bedrock of the old days has disappeared."

Russia, of course, already owns a vast nuclear arsenal. The worry is that all or part of it may fall into the wrong hands. The Russians still have enough nuclear might on land, at sea and in the air to devastate the United States.

China also is an accepted member of the nuclear club, and although its arsenal is relatively small, U.S. officials are concerned that the Chinese are too willing to sell weapons technology to Pakistan and other nuclear aspirants.

The United States imposed sanctions against China and Pakistan in August after determining that China had sold M-11 ballistic missile components to Pakistan last year. The sale was said to violate the Missile Technology Control Regime, a pact among global weapons suppliers aimed at limiting the spread of missiles.

The CIA said in a newly declassified report this week that North Korea, which is suspected of trying to build nuclear arms, has the technical potential to build within 15 years a nuclear-capable missile that could reach the United States. …