WHEN the five permanent members of the United Nations Security
Council - Britain, China, France, the Soviet Union, and the United
States - meet again to limit the spread of dangerous weapons, they
should try to set a date for ending their own tests of the most
dangerous of them all: nuclear weapons. The five just conferred for
two days in Paris to begin considering proposals to rein in arms
sales and the proliferation of chemical and nuclear weapons. But
they left off their agenda an important proposal that could help
inhibit near-nuclear countries from testing their experimental
devices to see how they work - a world-wide ban on all
The 1963 test ban treaty only prohibits tests in space, the
oceans, or the atmosphere; it allows underground tests to continue.
The Bush administration advocates a gradual, step-by-step approach
to end testing by the United States, Britain, and the Soviets.
In perhaps a decade, the US would be ready for talks to reduce
the size of tests below the present level of 10 times the yield of
the Hiroshima bomb. Other such steps would follow later - until, at
some distant and unspecified date, the three would end their testing
when nuclear weapons were no longer needed.
A quicker end is advocated by most of the developing countries of
the world. They organized a conference this year to amend the 1963
treaty immediately to end all tests. This approach was vigorously
opposed by Britain and the US and, like the first approach, did not
even include China and France, two nuclear-weapon powers now
Neither approach is likely to end testing in the foreseeable
future. We propose a middle way: The five avowed nuclear-weapon
powers - the same five who are permanent members of the Security
Council - should agree on a certain date, say 1995, for ending all
their tests. They should also begin negotiating a treaty to ban all
tests by any country.
The 1963 test ban was produced by negotiations between Britain,
the USSR, and the US. China and France both thought it was aimed at
them because they were at early stages in their own nuclear-weapon
programs. Both conducted atmospheric tests in defiance of the 1963
treaty for years and have refused to join it since. Both are now
continuing their testing underground.
France has suggested that it would not be the last to stop
testing. China's official position is that the USSR and the US must
first end testing, production, and deployment of nuclear weapons,
and make drastic cuts, before China would agree to limit or reduce
its nuclear weapons. But it has recently shown flexibility in talks
among the five in Paris and at the UN Security Council, and in those
among the 39 members of the Geneva disarmament conference.
Meanwhile, a host of factors have pushed the USSR and the US toward
satisfying China's preconditions: cutbacks in nuclear deployments
and weapons to fulfill agreements with allies, reduced defense
budgets, and arms control agreements such as INF, START, and likely