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Nuke tests raise old questions anew

It is said that India’s tests of five nuclear weapons last week shocked the world’s diplomatic community and took U.S. policymakers by surprise.

They shouldn’t have been surprised.

It was only a matter of time before some nation would come knocking at the door of the so-called nuclear club, saying, “We want in.” After all, nuclear weapons continue to define national prestige. The nuclear club includes the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France.

The end of the Cold War provided a golden opportunity for the club members to do what the club once pledged by treaty to do -- to move to eliminate all their nuclear weapons.

This was the tradeoff, the carrot that was to keep all the rest of the world’s nations from building nuclear weapons of their own. But in the wake of the Cold War, after the threat had been eliminated that allegedly forced the United States and others to maintain nuclear weapons in the first place, the club backtracked.

The Clinton administration has shown no leadership on the issue. Instead, it has sent out repeated signals in the past several years that U.S. policy no longer supports the goal of total nuclear weapons elimination. This is an unwise course. After all, how can we argue that India and Pakistan and other nations should not have nuclear weapons when we find it in our national interest to keep them?

To continue to stockpile nuclear weapons is morally untenable, a point made forcefully by the U.S. bishops in their 1983 pastoral on nuclear weapons policy matters.

The bishops, in that letter, barely justified the U.S. nuclear arsenal, saying it could be morally supported temporarily as a deterrent as long as the United States was moving toward the abolition of all its nuclear weapons. It seems appropriate for Catholic leaders and others to reassert the moral arguments in the pastoral.

National Catholic Reporter, May 22, 1998