Magazine article The Spectator

My Guess as to What the West Will Do about Third World Nuclear Weapons

Magazine article The Spectator

My Guess as to What the West Will Do about Third World Nuclear Weapons

Article excerpt

Nobody will recall, since nobody took the slightest notice, that this column recently - before the India and Pakistan tests raised its croaking voice in favour of a new Ban the Bomb campaign. Most columnists get a response, either with brickbats or bouquets, from about ten readers. In this instance there was not a single letter. Not even Monsignor Bruce Kent wrote in to give my plea his imprimatur. Just imagine if someone of my reactionary ilk had come out in support of a ban on fox-hunting that, in our little circle, would certainly have been news. But an ex-supporter of thermonuclear deterrence coming out for CND went quite unnoticed.

Not that I was surprised. For the truth is that in the interval between the end of the Cold War and last month's India and Pakistan nuclear tests, the West had grown amazingly complacent, even quite fond of the Bomb. For had it not, by introducing the balance of terror, brought the Cold War to a triumphant conclusion without the need for anybody to fire a single shot? Indeed it had, as even the CND was forced to admit. Far from having proved a source of unprecedented evil, nuclear weapons had in fact kept the peace with unparalleled effectiveness and, because of their astronomical cost, been a major factor in bankrupting the evil empire.

With the end of the Cold War, in short, the Western mood changed from nuclear self-laceration to nuclear self-congratulation. Instead of the mushroom cloud being seen as a dreadful shadow endangering the future of mankind, it began to be seen rather as a reassuring shield protecting the future of mankind. In theory, of course, Western governments continued to urge non-nuclear countries to desist from developing their own nuclear arsenals. But the fact that the same weapons were credited by the West with having kept the peace in Europe for half a century could not fail to weaken at least the moral force of such urgings. If the balance of terror had worked in Europe, why should it not do so in the other troubled regions of the world?

The obvious, if unspoken, answer, of course, was that whereas the United States, France and Great Britain, and even the Soviet Union, were in the hands of sane and responsible statesmen, determined not lightly to press the nuclear button, the same, unfortunately, could not be said about the nations of the Third World. Plainly, however, this was not an argument likely to carry much weight among the potential nuclear powers. In fact it was quite certain to provoke rather than to deter proliferation, as could easily have been predicted if anybody had bothered to remember how Germany reacted when, at the beginning of the century, Britain and France, having acquired colonies all over the world, produced similar arguments to prevent the Kaiser from doing the same.

If Britain and France had been prepared to give up their own places in the sun, it might have been another matter. But short of making that sacrifice, which they were unwilling to do, their hypocritical claims that colonies were more trouble than they were worth, or that Germany, unlike them, had no need of them, succeeded only in hotting up, rather than damping down, Germany's colonial ambitions, just as today's determination by the West to hang on to sizable nuclear armouries, while at the same time urging others not to acquire any at all, has also proved counter-productive, as it was bound to do.

Entirely overlooked, as much by commentators as by governments, was the Western case for non-proliferation having always depended on the continuation of the Cold War. …

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