While in Pakistan to help break ground for a nuclear reactor,
China's premier talks about enhancing bilateral nuclear cooperation
by selling the country two more nuclear power plants.
The United States, as part of a stepped-up energy dialogue with
India, suggests it could eventually sell India nuclear reactors - in
part to keep it from going into the natural gas pipeline business
And North Korea shuts down its nuclear reactor, which could mean
it is planning to ramp up nuclear arms production - or just using
routine maintenance to scare others about its nuclear ambitions.
All these events, spread over the past month, occur in a global
context of "erosion of the nonproliferation regime [that] could
become irreversible," a high-level United Nations panel recently
With the world community set to take up a five-year review of the
Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) next week, experts point both to
advances and to worrying signs to bolster a preponderant view that
more must be done if a dangerous wave of proliferation is to be
"Right now there's a mixed picture," says Leonard Spector of the
Monterey Institute's Center for Nonproliferation Studies.
He puts North Korea, which last year withdrew from the treaty and
boasted of nuclear weapons, and Iran, an NPT signatory suspected of
pursuing weapons development, as two black marks on the
nonproliferation ledger. But he counts Libya's renunciation of its
nuclear program, a recent UN resolution binding members to strict
laws on nuclear-materials exports, and other added international
safeguards as positive signs.
"Fundamentally the international community is rallying to the
cause," Mr. Spector says, "so I'd imagine that if anything, [the
treaty, after the May review] will be a little stronger."
Yet for others, the picture is darker - for reasons stretching
beyond North Korea and Iran and ranging from developing countries'
drive for cheaper, abundant, and nonpetroleum energy sources, to US
moves to build replacement nuclear weapons.
"There's a lot of bad news," says Daryl Kimball, executive
director of the Arms Control Association in Washington. His
organization and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
earlier this month issued a statement, signed by prominent former
officials and nuclear-weapons experts, warning that the world is on
the "threshold" of a new round of proliferation that next month's
NPT review must address.
The review will be buffeted by events in Iran and North Korea.
Iran is expressing growing impatience in its talks with three
European countries over its uranium-enrichment program. And by the
time the review begins May 2, North Korea's intentions may be
clearer. North Korean officials have said their intent is to obtain
plutonium to fuel nuclear bombs, but whether that is mere rhetoric
to focus world attention is unclear.
Existing global stockpiles of highly enriched uranium and
plutonium - the fissile materials that fuel nuclear bombs - probably
constitute the biggest threat to nonproliferation, experts say. …