- The Washington Times - Monday, January 5, 2004


by Sidney D. Drell and James E. Goodby

Hoover Institution Press $15, 134 pages

Fifty-eight years ago, the United States effectively ended World War II by dropping two atomic bombs on Japan. Since then, atomic weapons have not been used in any conflict and the number of countries possessing them has remained limited. Nevertheless, so potentially catastrophic is their mere existence that they do present the “gravest danger.”

In a book by that same name, eminent scientist Sidney Drell and seasoned diplomat James Goodby analyze what has occurred in the spread of atomic weapons and the danger the world now faces in their deployment. The authors do so in a sober manner, without the hyperbole that seems the hallmark of our age, but with a deadly seriousness that makes them all the more convincing.

Mr. Drell and Mr. Goodby view the non-use of atomic weapons during the past 58 years as a triumph of American diplomacy. True, the then-Soviet Union was equally aware that there could be no winner in an atomic war, and, was as anxious as we, that one should not take place. But it was American initiative and perseverance that played the significant role in building safeguards, such as the InternationalAtomicEnergy Agency(IAEA),against atomic weapons’ use.

The demise of the Soviet Union brought both relief and new worries. The rigid control over all aspects of Soviet life loosened, creating the potential of misplaced, stolen or embezzled nuclear arms. This problem has been met in part by the Nunn-Luger Cooperation Threat Reduction Program, funded by Congress since 1992, which is methodically disposing of nuclear armaments in Eastern Europe. Enormous amounts of nuclear material remain, however, and the authors make this a compelling reason for greater and closer Russian-American cooperation.

In “The Gravest Danger,” the authors list the following countries as having nuclear weapons: the United States, Great Britain, France, Russia, China, India and Pakistan. Israel has never acknowledged possession but everyone assumes it has them. North Korea pretends it has them and is working hard to secure them. Iran has laid the groundwork for an atomic bomb, and if it continues in that direction could have one in several years.

Iraq early on began work on a nuclear program but was stopped by military means; the reactor the French were building for them in Osirak was bombed by the Israelis in 1981 and destroyed. At the end of the 1992 Gulf War, IAEA inspectors were able to dismantle what remained of the program with the help of defectors.

North Korea is generally considered the most immediate threat to international security. Its leadership is paranoid and delusional; it has a threadbare economy that makes every step painful, and it feels no obligation to adhere to the truth in its communications. Mr. Drell and Mr. Goodby feel the best way to deal with the North Koreans is on a broad basis: Learn what they think their needs and difficulties are and treat them during negotiations.

The authors see no problem with the United States having one-on-one discussions or even a mutual non-aggression pact with the North Koreans. Such moves might allay their paranoia. They feel that, in addition to easing their political fears, we should give them an economic carrot to encourage their cooperation (although the current crisis is the result of the failure of such a plan started under the Clinton administration). In general, however, the authors prefer multilateral talks on regional issues that encompass nuclear armaments.

Clearly, no one wants to see a nuclear-armed North Korea, and it is that country’s neighbors — China, Japan and South Korea — who have the most to lose. We may take the lead in negotiations because of historic precedence but we must also impress upon the rest of northeast Asia their need for action.

Iran, Mr. Drell and Mr. Goodby feel, is more responsive to international opinion; in this case it is even more important to use a multilateral approach. As for India and Pakistan, both countries are now partners with the United States in the war on terror, giving us an opportunity to play the helpful neighbor.

The successes of the past five decades can be attributed in large part to American example. If we can continue to lead a concerted international effort, we may be able to find our way through the dangerous days ahead.

Sol Schindler is a retired foreign service officer who writes and lectures on international affairs.

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