Striking nuclear postures

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  • Sunday, 13 Feb 2005

Part Two of the interview of Dr Andrew Semmel, US Deputy Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Nonproliferation: The US drive against nuclear proliferation is aimed at reducing rather than abolishing nuclear weapons around the world, while maintaining their uneven distribution. 

AS Washington presses on with its campaign to stop most other countries from acquiring nuclear weapons, charges of inconsistency and double standards will continue to prevail. 

Meanwhile there are more questions than answers, and even some answers may seem inadequate. Some excerpts from the interview: 

How significant is the distinction between “nuclear” and “conventional” weapons, given that the US is developing smaller, “battlefield” nuclear weapons that would blur the distinction? 

The US is not developing smaller “battlefield” nuclear weapons, but we are developing concepts for smaller yield (nuclear) “bunker busters.” 

The Agni II long-range missile displayed during a rehearsal parade for India's Republic Day celebrations last month. America says India is among the nations which want nuclear weapons for prestige. - AFPpic

US law now prohibits new nuclear weapons. Last year there was money made available for them by Congress, but not this year. 

Conventional weapons are becoming more sophisticated, so the distinction (between nuclear and conventional) is narrowing. The US defence posture is becoming less reliant on nuclear weapons. 

There are some who say that, apart from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Muslim countries should be entitled to develop and possess nuclear weapons for self-defence (e.g. as deterrent against attack), especially when Israel is allowed to do so already. 

When countries sign on to the NPT (Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty), they ought to be committed to it. 

But Israel, India and Pakistan are not members of the NPT; they are not bound by the treaty. We urge them to be members. 

Any country that wants to act illegally should be sanctioned at the UN. 

South Africa backed away from a nuclear weapons platform, and Libya also. They have found it to be not cost-effective for them. 

India, Pakistan, Israel, Russia and Iran want nuclear weapons for prestige principally. The argument that it would buy them some stability is wrong. 

If Iran gets away with it, there will be others, and eventually the whole system of controls unravels. 

After the Cold War, has there been no significant degree of nuclear disarmament? 

The post-Cold War period is not remarkable in terms of nuclear disarmament. 

I don’t see in the foreseeable future nuclear-armed countries abandoning all these weapons, but I do see substantial reductions. The pressure for disarmament will continue. 

Now that the Cold War is over, shouldn’t the US relinquish all its nuclear weapons? 

To be honest, I don’t think the US will get rid of all its nuclear weapons. 

What international guarantees, if any, are in force to ensure that the US will not be the first to use nuclear weapons in an international conflict (following its first use in Hiroshima and Nagasaki)? 

The US has not issued any statement on “no first use” of nuclear weapons. This is true of the other four nuclear weapons states as well. 

The possibility is very remote that nuclear weapons will ever be used (by the US), especially when there are alternatives. 

Recently, Seymour Hersh said the US is no longer requiring Pakistan to hand over Dr A.Q. Khan for his proliferation network, in exchange for Pakistani collaboration in targetting Iran. Will Washington ever compel Pakistan to hand over Dr Khan? 

The US has had good cooperation from Pakistan on Dr Khan. There is more to learn, also with Malaysia and South Africa. 

Hersh is wrong because the US is still seeking to interview Khan. Although Pakistan is slow to respond on it, the US and other countries have no authority to indict him. 

Personally, I think there should be more done (than there has been) in Pakistan. 

One public perception of US NPT efforts now is that having failed to pin down Saddam Hussein’s Iraq on the problem, Washington is focusing on other places like South-East Asia for it. Do you expect more luck in this region than in Iraq? 

The reality is that every country has to cooperate to the best of their ability. The strength of the global system is in its weakest part. 

Where there are “loose nukes” which terrorists can use to devise a (makeshift) nuclear “dirty bomb,” Malaysia needs to strengthen its export controls. 

Our focus here is to gain greater collaborative efforts to secure dangerous materials from rogue states and terrorists. This is a global effort in which the UN and individual countries play a part.  

Related Stories:Some uneven nuclear angles 

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