Renewal of U.N.'S Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Won't Be Easy

Article excerpt

FOR A QUARTER of a century, a relatively terse document of fewer than 50 paragraphs has served as the centerpiece for all international efforts to limit the spread of nuclear weapons and to prevent peaceful nuclear projects from being used in destructive ways.

Now the 1968 accord, the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons, is up for renewal, 25 years after it went into effect.

The pact has done its job reasonably well. But as representatives from 174 nations gather at the United Nations today to begin a four-week conference to review and renew the treaty, there are differences about it.

The United States and the other four nations that acknowledge having nuclear weapons - Britain, China, France and Russia - want to extend the treaty indefinitely and unconditionally.

Since the treaty took effect, not a single nation has acknowledged developing nuclear arms, although several countries are believed to have amassed clandestine arsenals.

When the Soviet Union broke up, four new countries - Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus - inherited its nuclear weapons. Following an intense diplomatic campaign mounted by the United States and Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus agreed to ship all the weapons on their territory to Russia. All three countries agreed to sign the nonproliferation treaty, leaving Russia as the only Soviet successor state with a nuclear arsenal.

Without the treaty, experts estimate, the nuclear club could have grown to 50 or more countries by now and atomic bombs might have reached the weapons black markets.

All signers to the treaty, except the five nuclear powers, have been required to renounce all nuclear weapons programs. …