Joining the Club

Article excerpt

The Bomb is back. Recently, North Korea threatened to pull out of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, Ukraine balked at turning over to Russia the nukes it inherited from the old Soviet Union, Secretary of State Warren Christopher weighed sanctions against the Koreans and talked tough about Iran's "outlaw" nuclear ambitions, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh revealed that in 1990 Pakistan and India nearly fought a nuclear war over Kashmir, and South African President F.W. de Klerk announced that his country had secretly built six A-bombs but destroyed them shortly after he took office three years ago.

There are several lessons in these events. One, in the case of South Africa, is that nothing impels unilateral disarmament like the prospect of a liberation movement getting its hands on the Bomb. The international community long knew, and said little, of the Boer bomb: The United States built South Africa's first nuclear reactor and trained its nuclear scientists, Israel shared its bomb-making expertise in exchange for uranium ore and jointly tested a bomb with the Boers in 1979, and France, Germany and Canada assisted in varying degrees. But only recently did de Klerk come under pressure from the West to end his country's nuclear program. Although the African National Congress is committed to nonproliferation and a nuclear-free Africa, the United States has been negotiating to buy Johannesburg's stockpile of weapons-grade uranium before the black majority comes to power.

God forbid that the "wrong people" should get their hands on the Bomb. Hence, the U.S. policy of thundering about North Korea and Iran while winking at South Africa, Israel, Iraq (until Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait) and Pakistan (until the Soviets were pushed out of Afghanistan). "The Reagan Administration . …