CAN WE EVER SCRAP NUCLEAR BOMBS?; the 'Big Five' Have Agreed to Destroy Their Nuclear Arms but Message from the Experts Is: 'Don't Hold Your Breath'

Article excerpt

AT first glance, it seems to be the most historic announcement since the end of the Cold War.

The five most powerful nations on Earth, in an apparent commitment to ever-lasting peace, have agreed to destroy their entire arsenal of nuclear weapons.

The commitment by the main recognised nuclear powers, USA, Russia, France, Britain and China, came at a review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty at the United Nations HQ in New York.

It was the news that generations of people have been praying for ever since the ultimate threat to world civilisation first emerged in the middle of the last century. It should have been met with a sigh of relief.

But the reality is the Big Five have set no timetable for disarmament. And last night, military experts warned: "Don't hold your breath".

Instead, they predict a long period of nervous international suspicion.

The truth is that the world is about to enter a whole new military arena.

America is planning an ambitious National Missile Defence (NMD) programme which would destroy a nuclear attack on the US while the missiles were still in space.

Experts fear that the US, which no longer sees Russia as a serious threat, could be using the announcement to wrong-foot the others, while making itself completely safe from attack.

America's NMD plan has caused serious concerns even among its closest allies - UK, France and Germany - never mind Russia and China.

They fear the system would destabilise the world and encourage new weapons designed to get round NMD-style defences.

Professor John Erickson, a fellow of defence studies at Edinburgh University, is not surprised to hear that no timetable has been set.

He said that the US may put pressure on Britain or France to disarm first - as a gesture towards the Chinese and Russians.

Professor Erickson acknowledges the traditional nuclear weapon has had its day but fears the behaviour of the Americans could result in a deadly arms race in space.

He said: "While on one hand America is aligning itself with the abolition of nuclear weapons, it is proposing a system of missile defence which might encourage other nations to become nuclear powers. This has to be sorted out one way or another."

He added: "At the moment, no one is invulnerable. If someone tried to play the nuclear game, chances are they would be severely damaged so therefore they don't do so. …