A World Gone Mad
By BOB HERBERT
As if the war in Iraq and the battles between Israel and its neighbors were not frightening enough, now comes word of a development in Pakistan that may well be the harbinger of a much greater catastrophe.
Over the past few years, Pakistan has been hard at work building a powerful new plutonium reactor that when completed will be able to produce enough fuel to make 40 to 50 nuclear weapons a year.
This is happening at the same time that the Bush administration is pushing hard for final Congressional approval of a nonmilitary nuclear cooperation deal with Pakistan’s rival, India, that would in fact enhance India’s bomb-making capacity. The deal would enable India to free up its own stocks of nuclear fuel to the extent that it could expand its nuclear weapons production from about seven warheads a year to perhaps 50.
Yes, Virginia, the world is going mad.
Pakistan’s initiative, which in a few years could increase its bomb-making capacity twentyfold, was first reported last week by The Washington Post. Experts at the Institute for Science and International Security, after analyzing the program, concluded that “South Asia may be heading for a nuclear arms race that could lead to arsenals growing into the hundreds of nuclear weapons or, at minimum, vastly expanded stockpiles of military fissile material.”
There is no way to overstate the potential danger of an accelerated nuclear arms race in South Asia. Breeding nukes willy-nilly is an invitation to Armageddon. Pakistan, for those who need to be reminded, is where Osama bin Laden and his henchmen are thought to be hiding. It’s also the home of Abdul Qadeer Khan, the pied piper of proliferation (now under house arrest) who provided crucial nuclear materials and expertise to Iran, North Korea and Libya.
Representative Edward Markey, the Massachusetts Democrat who led the opposition to the deal with India, told me he was surprised by the subdued reaction to the news about Pakistan’s reactor.
“You would have thought that a firestorm would break out,” he said. “As a nation, we should be very afraid if Pakistan can come up with a twentyfold increase in the amount of nuclear weapons materials that it can manufacture. The greatest fear we have is of a bomb slipping into the hands of a terrorist group — and we know that Al Qaeda is in Pakistan — and then having it moved toward the Middle East, or put on a ship headed to an American port.”
Mr. Markey, who is co-chairman of a bipartisan House task force on nonproliferation, noted that the White House had long been aware of Pakistan’s plutonium-production reactor but had kept that knowledge from Congress and the American public. Why? To what end? Does the administration not understand the truly horrifying stakes involved in this deplorable spread of nuclear adventurism?
“This is not just about Pakistan, or Pakistan and India,” said Mr. Markey. “What impact will this have on China, which is looking at what India might do? What impact will it have on Iran, a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, being put on trial at the U.N., with sanctions being asked by the United States?”
(Neither India nor Pakistan are signers of the treaty.)
Common sense should tell you that thundering along the road to ever more nuclear weapons in ever shakier hands is madness, the global equivalent to driving drunk at ever higher speeds. Does anyone think China will sit quietly by as India and Pakistan develop the capacity to outpace it in the production of nukes?
Does anyone doubt that at some point, if the spread of nuclear weapons is not vigorously suppressed, a bomb will end up in the hands of a freak who has no other intention in the world than to use it?
John F. Kennedy, in a televised address to the nation in July 1963, said: “I ask you to stop and think for a moment what it would mean to have nuclear weapons in so many hands, in the hands of countries large and small, stable and unstable, responsible and irresponsible, scattered throughout the world. There would be no rest for anyone then, no stability, no real security, and no chance of effective disarmament.”
There was a time when the top leaders of the United States understood that we should be moving toward fewer nukes on the planet, not an exponential, suicidal increase in these worst of all weapons.