The "Islamic" Bomb
By Pervez Hoodbhoy
The "Islamic Bomb" is the title of a 1979 BBC television documentary, of a book by Herbert Krosney and Steven Weismann, of another by D. K. Palit and P. K. S. Namboodiri, and it is used often in a hostile context in various discussions and writings. Although imprecisely defined, the "Islamic bomb" is roughly understood to be a nuclear weapon acquired for broad ideological reasons-a weapon that supposedly belongs collectively to the Muslim ummah or community and, as such, is the ultimate expression of Islamic solidarity.
Concern about the Islamic bomb is at the heart of the intense effort to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons to Muslim countries. The official justification is a general one: proliferation must be curbed globally. But unofficially, the Islamic bomb gets special attention.
Terrorism is given as one reason. Another is the threat of Khomeini-style Islamic fundamentalism sweeping unchecked across the world, locked in jihad with infidels, willing and able to use the ultimate weapons of mass destruction in hope of reward in the Hereafter. A third reason, related to the second, is "Islamism" - the fear that Muslim solidarity will lead to, in times of crisis, the transfer of nuclear arms from nuclear to non-nuclear Muslim countries. A final reason involves location: the region is the jugular vein of the West; no countries in such a strategic location should be permitted to threaten oil interests.
So potent is the fear of an Islamic bomb that, in the post-Soviet era, it is the critical factor determining the nature of relations between the Western powers and those Muslim countries engaged in the pursuit of nuclear weapons. This fear is visible in the way that nuclear non-proliferation is enshrined as a key U.S. foreign policy doctrine for the 1990s. The Clinton administration is likely to become more involved in this issue than has any other previous U.S. administration. U.S. doctrine requires that all Muslim and non-Muslim non-nuclear states (with the exception of Israel), be persuaded, cajoled, or pressured until they renounce their nuclear ambitions.
U.S. seriousness about pursuing this doctrine is demonstrated by its objections to the sale of a Chinese reactor to Iran; by its refusal to reduce tensions with North Korea until that country suspends its nuclear program, by its suspension of economic and military aid to Pakistan as punishment for continuing nuclearization; and by the destruction of Iraq's nuclear facilities during and after the Gulf War.
The Islamic bomb is seen as a law-and-order problem, requiring appropriate police action or punitive measures. Media images have created fearsome scenarios, including a Saddam Hussein caressing the nuclear button. There is a growing current of opinion, voiced unofficially, that in the post-Soviet world, war must be waged against the Islamic bomb and Islamic fundamentalism. As Red and Yellow perils fade into history, the "Muslim peril" (with the Islamic bomb in the background) has stepped into view.
But this perception is not helpful- in fact, it is extremely dangerous. Most discussions of the subject are either alarmist or narrowly technical, focusing on supply-side measures such as export controls and embargoes, or even on direct military action.
I believe, however, that proliferation-as a global phenomenon-is fundamentally a political problem and must be tackled as such. This does not mean that one must wait for all disputes between peoples or nations to be resolved before doing anything. But it does mean that the world community must take immediate and urgent steps to decrease the tensions that inspire countries to seek nuclear weapons, or-in the case of those with weapons-to contemplate their use.
This perspective demands an evaluation of issues related to nuclearization in Muslim countries. In particular:
How important are broad ideological concerns-Islamic unity and defense against a common foe-as motivations for Muslim countries to seek nuclear weapons? Would Islamic solidarity be expected to play a substantial role in transferring weapons or technology to another Muslim country?
How do Muslim countries perceive U.S. efforts to limit the spread of nuclear weapons?
What accounts for the fact that, among the nations of the South, the deepest level of antagonism to the West is found in Muslim countries?
Why do so many developing countries seek nuclear arms? If Pakistan had been a Christian country, would it still have sought the bomb?
What are the technical barriers to proliferation? What is the current level of nuclear development in Muslim countries interested in acquiring nuclear weapons? What of the future?
What possible course of action by the world community can limit the further spread of nuclear weapons and decrease the chances of eventual nuclear conflict?
The Islamic bomb evokes fearsome images: the power of nuclear annihilation in the hands of dictators, holy war and warriors, and terrorists. But Muslims, whether moderate or extreme, resent the use of the phrase even if they support, at some level, the idea of a bomb for Muslims. Why talk of an Islamic bomb but never of a bomb labeled with another faith?
Irrespective of whether or not an Islamic bomb can or cannot, or should or should not, exist, the concept behind the term is of Muslim origin. The idea of a nuclear weapon for collective defense of the entire Muslim ummah was, after all, articulated and advocated by Muslim leaders who recognized its popularity and determined to benefit from it.
Addressing posterity from his death cell in a Rawalpindi jail, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the architect of Pakistan's nuclear program, wrote: "We know that Israel and South Africa have full nuclear capability. The Christian, Jewish, and Hindu civilizations have this capability. The communist powers also possess it. Only the Islamic civilization was without it, but that position was about to change."
Another Muslim leader stressed the need for a bomb belonging collectively to Islam. Addressing an Islamic conference in Teheran in 1992, the Iranian vice-president, Sayed Ayatollah Mohajerani said, "Since Israel continues to possess nuclear weapons, we, the Muslims, must cooperate to produce an atomic bomb, regardless of U.N. efforts to prevent proliferation."
Echoing similar pan-Islamic sentiments and arguing against weapon- limitation treaties, Agha Murtaza Pooya, a Pakistani politician and the owner of an influential Islamabad newspaper, recently wrote: "Indigenous improvisations by Muslim governments to missiles and mass destruction technologies gave their arsenals a force-multiplier effect, thus marginalizing the preponderant Indo-Zionist might. . . . All will be bartered away if we submit-singly or jointly-to the perverse prescription of de-Islamization, de-nuclearization, and demilitarization being peddled by the Ziono-Indian-U.S. triaxis. . . ."
The bomb as panacea
The bomb looms large in the popular Muslim consciousness as a symbol of Islamic unity, determination, and self-respect. It is seen by many as a guarantee against further humiliating defeats, as the sure sign of a reversal of fortunes, and as a panacea for the ills that have plagued Muslims since the end of the Golden Age of Islam. Such sentiments are echoed by Muslims from Algeria to Syria, and from Iraq to Pakistan. A country that could turn this symbolism into reality would have the support of hundreds of millions of Muslims the world over. It is therefore natural that Pakistan, a Muslim country that is now a de facto nuclear state, should indeed enjoy considerable financial and political benefits from oil-rich Arab countries. Similarly, Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the guiding spirit behind the uranium enrichment program, is venerated in Pakistan as a national hero.
Such "evidence" seems to indicate that the Islamic bomb could become a reality, if not immediately, then in the not-too-distant future. But this would be a wholly incorrect deduction. There cannot be an Islamic bomb unless certain drastic developments occur.
An elusive goal
While religious and political leaders proclaim the existence of one Muslim ummah and speak rhetorically of its common defense, the fact is that this goal is more elusive now than ever. Unity has never been a Muslim strong point. Violent internecine struggle began almost at the beginning of Islam. After the death of the Prophet, the question of who should be the next caliph caused divisions among the faithful so deep that the passage of 14 centuries has not healed them. Today the Sunni-Shia split is as hostile as ever, and it has been augmented by numerous and frequently violent quarrels among Sunni sects. In 1974 the Ahmadi sect was excommunicated from Islam by an act of the Pakistani parliament, and extremists have launched a powerful movement aimed at excommunicating Zikris, Ismailis, and Shias.
At the political level, history bears witness to the negligible role that the collective Islamic consciousness has played in matters involving real issues of power. Much as Christians have fought each other for power over the centuries, Muslim dynasties have also battled. The Ummayads were destroyed by the Abbasids, the Abbasids were wiped out by the Buwayhids, and so on. In the famous battle of Panipat in India, the first Moghul king wrested power from another Muslim king. Later, Moghuls fought bitterly against Afghan and Persian invaders from the north who were also Muslim. Even when Muslims have been pitted against non-believers, Muslim solidarity has failed to coalesce: the Arab rulers of Spain allied themselves with Christian invaders against other Muslim rulers, and in India, even arch-conservative Muslim rulers like Aurangzeb allied with Hindu princes to fight local Muslim opposition.
Today, oil-rich Arab countries pay lip service to the Palestinian cause- which they regard as an Islamic cause-while investing their dollars in the United States, Israel's prime supporter and underwriter of its expansion into areas captured through war. The systematic destruction of Beirut in 1982, the Indian security forces' crimes against Kashmiri Muslims, and the Serbs' genocide inflicted upon Bosnian Muslims-all have failed to elicit a significant response from the Muslim community at large.
There are many examples of national fervor or a common language functioning as a far more powerful source of group identity than shared faith. For example, the Pakistan army was a violent instrument of oppression for Bengalis; Syrians organized the Tel-al-Zaatar massacre of Palestinians; and Iraq, Iran, and Turkey have jointly persecuted Kurds. The list is long.
In truth, pan-Islamism, the dream of nineteenth-century reformers like Jamaluddin Afghani, is a myth whose pursuit has yielded naught. As a modern corollary, the Islamic bomb is a meaningless notion. Individual Muslim countries may desire nuclear weapons, and some have been engaged in that enterprise for many years, but the motivations are essentially secular and nationalistic, although cloaked in Islamic garb. Just as Israel's nuclear weapons are intended to serve the state of Israel and not Judaism, so too the weapons sought by Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, and possibly other Muslim countries, are intended to serve the purposes of their states.
From time to time, the media reports the speculation that Pakistan would provide a "nuclear umbrella" for Arab countries in a crisis. But nothing in the history of Pakistan has shown a substantial commitment to an Islamic cause. Pakistan is unlikely to risk devastating retaliation from Israel or the United States if it did attempt to provide nuclear weapons for use in the Middle East. Nuclear cooperation with Iran, in addition to carrying unacceptable dangers and the threat of economic sanctions, would be further inhibited by the longstanding Shia-Sunni hostility. (These arguments do not rule out clandestine transfers of nuclear know-how, at some level, for political or economic reasons. French nuclear assistance to Israel, and Chinese to Pakistan, are instances where neither shared religion nor ideology was the motivation.)
Disarming the disarmed
In 1981, President Ronald Reagan, told by his national security adviser that American-supplied Israeli warplanes had destroyed the nuclear power plant in Osirak, Iraq, is said to have pondered for a moment before remarking, "Well. Boys will be boys." For most Muslims, particularly in the Middle East, U.S. advocacy of non-proliferation measures is a cynical and transparent ploy. Non-proliferation appears to be empty pontificating coming from a power seeking to arm the armed while trying to disarm the unarmed.
Israel, which shares high-level defense technologies and intelligence data with the United States, is determined to be the sole nuclear state in the Middle East-by use of force, if necessary. Mordechai Vanunu's revelations suggest that Israel may possess about 200 warheads, some of them "boosted" weapons with H-bomb power. It also possesses an advanced delivery system with the Jericho and other missiles. To Muslims, U.S. complicity is evident both in Israel's nuclear arming and in helping Israel keep its adversaries de-nuclearized. When Israel was expelled from the IAEA for bombing the Osirak reactor, the United States temporarily withdrew from the organization.
The United States has welcomed numerous Israeli efforts to prevent the nuclearization of Arab states. About three years before the Osirak raid, Israeli secret service agents blew up the core of a French experimental reactor, which was to be shipped to Iraq from La Seyne-sur-Mer. Today, with the Iraqi nuclear program inoperative, Iran is now the focus of dark predictions and veiled threats by Israeli military intelligence.
If past history is any guide, fears of possible future Israeli military action-directly or indirectly supported by the United States-against Iran, or even against the Pakistani enrichment facility at Kahuta, are not baseless. But will the Israeli strategy of nuclear espionage and military force continue to work indefinitely? Apparently many Israelis think it will, or they see no alternative.
But some Israelis recognize that Israel's nuclear monopoly may eventually break; advances in technology will make it impossible to keep nuclear weapons away from its adversaries. Moshe Arens, for example, has stated that Israel's adversaries will possess nuclear weapons within the next ten years. For Israeli hawks, this means that Israel must develop a second-strike capability. A second-strike capability would mean still more warheads, hardened underground missile silos, and possibly nuclear-armed surface vessels or submarines.
The glimmerings of a more moderate tendency within Israel do exist. There is some recognition that Israel must come to terms with its Arab neighbors, as well as with the native population it has forcibly dispossessed, by trading captured lands in exchange for peace. Shimon Peres, a former prime minister and one of the architects of the Israeli nuclear program, now argues: "Science is more important than land. We cannot rely on a military solution, only economic and political ones. Israel cannot bomb centrifuges in caves. We have five years-ten years at the most-to make peace or we'll have a nuclear Middle East."
As yet, this appears to be a minority view in Israel, where the nuclear issue is usually swept under the rug. Nevertheless, it promises hope of a negotiated settlement. A wildly optimistic view would be that, eventually, a preponderance of such attitudes will lead to a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East. Peace in the Middle East-should it ever be achieved-would go a long way toward reducing Muslim antagonism to the West. But the roots of such antagonism are deep.
Roots of antagonism
In the days preceding the U.S.-led assault on Iraqi forces in Kuwait, a besieged Saddam Hussein stitched the Muslim battle cry Allah-o-Akbar onto the Iraqi flag and prayed before television cameras. It was an anxious appeal to the power of political Islam and its ability to mobilize opposition to the West. Twenty years earlier, this leader of secular Arab nationalism would have raised the banner of pan-Arabism, a movement that met disgrace after repeated defeats of Arab forces on the battlefield. But now Hussein's call was for jihad, and the language used by Baghdad radio throughout the war was laden with Islamic symbolism. For example, as in the Arab-Israeli war of 1973, Iraqis killed in war were described as shaheeds (martyrs) rather than as patriots. This strategy worked even though the war was lost; Hussein succeeded in evoking a powerful emotional response among millions of Muslims the world over.
This raises questions that seem to have no reasonable answers: Why did many Muslims, possibly a majority, choose to ignore Hussein's invasion of Kuwait and his bloody crimes against other Muslims in Iraq and in Iran, and, instead, align themselves emotionally against the U.S.-led alliance? Why do neo-fundamentalist Islamic movements have so much support when, in fact, most of their targets are other Muslims? Fundamentalist Mujahideen factions in Afghanistan have turned the city of Kabul into a battleground, and they are busily employed bombing neighborhoods, looting, maiming, and raping each other's followers in the name of Islam. A growing religious movement in Pakistan-the Anjuman Sipah-e-Sahaba- is seeking the expulsion of Shias from Islam, and they regularly commit assassinations and murders to achieve this end. Anger, violence, and fanaticism seem to have penetrated every Muslim country.
One consequence of Muslim extremism has been a growing (and reactionary) tendency in the West to view most, if not all, Muslims as fanatics maddened beyond reason. But this is irrational. Violence and extremism are not the monopoly of Islamic fundamentalism; they are common to fundamentalism of every faith. Moreover, in quantitative terms, the suffering inflicted on humanity by modern Western civilizations has been far greater, largely because they have wielded far greater powers of destruction. Nevertheless, political Islam has an extraordinary power to mobilize Muslims the world over. Why is it so militantly anti-West in character?
The answers, I believe, have relatively little to do with matters of faith and much more to do with the tangible, direct experiences of Muslims in this century. Militant political Islam has emerged as a response to the abject failure of Muslim society to provide the essentials needed for dignified human existence. Grossly unequal distribution of wealth in Muslim countries, suppression of fundamental human liberties, mistreatment of minorities and women, and populations soaring out of control, have produced a nightmare. Muslim states have massacred their own citizens by the thousands in Iraq, Syria, Iran, former East Pakistan, and Timor. There are dictators and coups, nepotism and corruption. Heads of government in Muslim countries rarely retire to play golf; instead, they often meet violent death through assassination.
Plagued by religious and ethnic hatreds, and pushed backward by reactionary internal forces, the crisis of Muslim society has never been deeper. Eqbal Ahmed, writing in a Pakistani daily, observes: "It is difficult to recall a more demoralized and corrupt community in the annals of history. Each of the 30-odd 'Islamic' governments are dominated by self-serving rulers. . . . All are addicted to armaments and to dependence on suppliers. All are littered with machines but command no technology. Not one is home to a university or research center of repute. They lack the will no less than the know-how to transform wealth into capital, importance into influence, resource into power."
Responding to crisis
Faced with a fundamental crisis and manifest decline, three distinct responses have emerged within Islamic civilization in this century. The first, and the most visible, seeks to assign all failures and defeats to a deviation from the True Path; it seeks to restore some idealized version of the glorious Muslim past through a return to strict adherence to Islam and its rituals. Saudi Arabia and Iran- otherwise bitter ideological enemies- are united in their opposition to modernism in values and the secular, rationalist, and universalist ideal.
The second response, still dominant although muted, is to reinterpret the Islamic faith to accommodate modern thought. This has led to a third variant rooted in pragmatism, in which the requirements of religion and faith are considered as essentially unrelated to the direct concerns of economic and political life. But even Muslim rulers subscribing to this point of view (Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Habib Borguiba, Gamel Abdul Nasser, Ali Bhutto, and Saddam Hussein are examples), have freely used Islamic symbolism to attain political or national goals and have thereby further legitimized the use of Islam in politics.
Internal crisis, while explaining the rise of fundamentalist Islamic movements, does not by itself explain why such movements have such a strong anti-Western orientation. A glance at history, however, explains the anti-Western bias.
Over the centuries, both Islam's relationship with the West as well as its territorial boundaries have fluctuated. There were times of bitter strife as, for instance, during the Crusades, but there were also times of intimate and fruitful collaboration. Seven centuries of Muslim rule in Spain gave the Europeans, among other things, access to the accumulated treasures of Greek and Islamic learning. There was a fundamental symmetry between Islam and the West, a symmetry broken by the rapid rise of science in the West, followed by a European imperialism equipped, both militarily and intellectually, with powerful products of the Age of Reason. The relationship was never to be the same again.
In spite of a five-centuries-long tradition of brilliant scholarship and scientific achievement, Islamic civilization has been static since around the fourteenth century. Thus, traditional Muslim society stood defenseless before the onslaught of eighteenth century mercantile imperialism. Almost all of the Muslim world, ranging from West Africa to East Asia, was rapidly colonized. In central Asia, following the reign of Peter the Great and Russia's emergence as a great power in the 1800s, the Khanates of Khiva, Bukhara, and Kokand were quick prizes for colonial acquisition. The confrontation of an industrial and capitalist West with a traditional and pre-capitalist society left the latter numbed, disoriented, and humiliated. The scars have yet to heal.
The end of the colonial era brought euphoria, probably much like the euphoria we see today in the Central Asian Muslim republics. But with traditional political, economic, social, and cultural relationships badly eroded in the long encounter with imperialism, the emerging Muslim states were poorly equipped to deal with a world that had changed so much. Nationalist movements soon foundered, or, as in Ahmed Sukarno's Indonesia and Mohammed Mossadeq's Iran, became victims of U.S.-sponsored subversion.
But beyond doubt, the forcible dispossession of the Palestinians from their homeland created the greatest Muslim hostility to the West. Israeli policy, aimed at eliminating the Palestinians from the remnants of their homeland, is seen as having been consistently supported by the United States. Once a largely secular and nationalist Arab cause, the Palestinian issue ranks as the single most prominent Islamic issue.
In the latter part of this century, a dangerous and vicious pattern was established in the Muslim relationship with the West. Muslims see themselves as bullied by Western military might; this leads to a general perception that the West is dominating and subverting Muslim societies through economic and cultural power. Therefore the Muslims, as would any other people who feel besieged, tend to fall back and reinforce their own identity through opposition to the West and through appeals to past Islamic glories.
A consequence of the Muslim siege mentality-a trait they share with Israelis-has been mass paranoia. Wild theories of international conspiracies against Islam are believed by astonishingly large numbers of Muslims. Preachers and politicians denounce the West as the cause of all the ills of the Islamic world. Western culture, which invades every Muslim home via the mass media, is roundly condemned although it is allowed to continue, and is sometimes even welcomed, producing a curious form of cultural schizophrenia.
If the drive for nuclear arms is not derived from religion, a more general question remains. Why do some nation-states seek nuclear weapons? Perceptions of threats are undoubtedly important, but they are not necessarily the sole motivation. Prestige and power may be extremely important as well. Given the perverse set of values that mankind has inherited from its violent past, a nation with the power of annihilation is presumably more important than one without it. The United Nations appears to accept this implicitly; all five permanent members of the Security Council are nuclear weapons powers.
In a global climate of hostility, antagonism, and internecine wars, massive supplies of conventional but highly destructive arms from the industrial North are avidly sought by many countries of the South. The Gulf War reinforced this message; it was an important stimulus for the proliferation of all types of weapons. A few months after the war, one of the most successful exhibitions of military aircraft-in terms of numbers of buyers from developing countries- was held at Le Bourget, north of Paris. Patriot missiles, F-16s, helicopter gunships, and smart missiles are in great demand. Nuclear weapons-providing "more bang for the buck"-would be even more attractive if they were available.
In a sense, nuclear weapons are a sequel to modernization. The Indian case is perhaps the clearest recent demonstration of the phenomena. Nuclear weapons, with their surrounding mystique and awesome power to destroy, are shimmering objects symbolizing the mastery of advanced technology. National chauvinism finds a rallying point: build the bomb!
Islam or no Islam, many Muslim countries want nuclear weapons for specific national reasons. Following the logic of modernization, they-as well as other developing countries- are imitating what the developed North has already done. Thus, Muslim states are indistinguishable from other modernizing states that have, or aspire to have, weapons of mass destruction. If a Muslim state acquires a nuclear arsenal, it is very likely to behave as would any other nuclear state. Islamic unity would probably have no real significance.
Bombs made easy
Can international controls effectively limit the spread of nuclear weapons? Having greatly extended its influence in the Security Council after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the United States clearly hopes to use the United Nations as a means to this end. Other means include the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group. New monitoring procedures will be implemented to check that countries that have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) comply with treaty rules. In April 1992, the London Suppliers Group extended controls to dual-use goods. The group resolved that such goods would not be sold to states suspected of having nuclear explosives programs. But the effectiveness of such restrictions is questionable. Dual-use items include computers, control systems, high-speed cameras, hardened steels, and cryotrons, to name a few. All have industrial as well as potential nuclear uses. Careful export controls and new monitoring methods may limit the rate of proliferation, but it is obvious that these procedures are effective only to a point.
It is becoming easier and easier for even rather poor countries with marginal technological infrastructures to develop the rudiments of a nuclear weapons program-provided that they are sufficiently motivated to do so. Pakistan has proved this point. It has a per capita GNP of less than $400, about 74 percent of its people are illiterate, and the quality of its educational system ranks close to the poorest in the world. The university system has essentially collapsed over the last two decades. The industrial base is narrow-80 percent of its exports are agriculturally based, and the manufacturing sector accounts for only 20 percent of its gross domestic product.
In spite of these disadvantages, Pakistan is the first Muslim state to possess nuclear weapons. Following the Indian nuclear explosion of 1974, Pakistan felt it was in mortal danger from a country with which it had fought three major wars. Developing nuclear weapons was viewed as an issue of survival; the prestige and leverage this brought in the Arab world were welcome but secondary rewards. By concentrating its limited scientific energies into the nuclear program, and by developing a superb international network for the clandestine purchase of nuclear materials, Pakistan has been able to create a fairly sophisticated nuclear establishment relative to its other areas of scientific endeavor. According to a Carnegie Endowment For International Peace report, Pakistan obtained its first atomic weapon in 1986. It currently has fissile material for probably 10 to 15 easily assembled A-bombs, and possibly all the components for them.
Pakistan's current level of nuclear development does not qualify it as a nuclear power. Covert possession of a few crude bombs of uncertain reliability and explosive yield does not equal real military significance. Other key requirements-delivery mechanisms, and the command, control, communications, and information systems needed to conduct nuclear war-are not yet in place. If India declared itself nuclear, Pakistan would presumably do the same. Pakistan is playing a game of careful ambiguity, closely watching India's moves.
If Pakistan can do it, so can many other countries. Among Muslim countries, Iraq and Iran are the most likely to follow suit. Their financial resources are far greater than Pakistan's and their technical manpower base is at a roughly comparable level. According to nuclear weapons experts who examined the evidence compiled by the U.N. Special Commission on Iraq at the time of the Gulf War, Iraq was about three years away from producing its first atomic weapon. The destruction of its nuclear facilities, both during and after the war, has been a major setback to its efforts. But even so, the possibility exists that once sanctions are lifted, Iraq will be able to rebuild its program in a few years.
Relative to Iraq, Iran is better placed, should it seriously seek to develop nuclear capabilities. At the time of the Shah, as part of a grandiose program to install tens of reactors for nuclear power generation, thousands of Iranian scientists, engineers, and technicians were sent to the United States and other Western countries for training. After the revolution, the program was scrapped, but the manpower still exists in Iran to some degree, and a revival of interest is apparent from the September 1992 deal Iran made with China for the purchase of a test reactor.
Searching for solutions
Nuclear weapons states must take effective steps toward global denuclearization. There is no other way. While the NPT is important as a means to decrease the chances of nuclear conflict, and should be signed by all nations, it must be regarded as only an interim arrangement. There is absolutely no reason why the world should-or will- accept that only those states that currently possess nuclear weapons have the right to possess them indefinitely. Nuclear-weapons states could demonstrate their commitment to eventual global denuclearization- and endow their anti-proliferation efforts with moral authority-by reducing weapon inventories. The strategic arms reduction and intermediate-range nuclear forces treaties are positive steps, but they do not go far enough. Even if both treaties are fully implemented, the United States will still be left with 3,500 strategic weapons. A minimal deterrent needs a few dozen weapons at most.
They should also stop asserting that they need to "modernize" their weapons, even if the total size of their arsenals is fixed. As a corollary, nuclear weapons testing ought to be completely banned.
They should firmly declare a "no- first-use" policy and renounce the threat of nuclear weapons in the conduct of international affairs. They must provide guarantees that under no circumstances will nuclear weapons be used against non-nuclear states. The United States, for example, had actively contemplated using these weapons in the course of the Korean and Vietnam wars against non-nuclear opponents.
They must also provide a guarantee that, if a non-nuclear weapons state is attacked or threatened with attack with nuclear weapons, then a nuclear cover will be provided to that state.
They must penalize proliferators impartially. Pakistan, Iran, and Iraq cannot be treated differently than Israel. Such a stand is morally indefensible. It would be a supreme irony if the United States were to recruit Israel-a clandestine nuclear weapon state-to enforce non-proliferation.
Logically, the United Nations is the organization to lay the foundations for a new nuclear order. One possibility is reviving the Baruch Plan, which was rejected by the Soviet Union in 1946. This plan required that all nuclear materials and explosives be owned by a central authority under direct control of the Security Council, which would have custody of a few nuclear weapons to deter secret possession of nuclear weapons by any other state. No individual state could own or possess nuclear weapons. Nearly 50 years ago the plan was given short shrift. Now it merits serious discussion.
Bridging the gulf
But while it is up to the nuclear-weapons states to take the first meaningful steps, even their total and unilateral renunciation of nuclear weapons would not be enough to prevent other nations from acquiring them. There is a deeper problem here, a problem whose roots lie in the division of the world into North and South.
A deep gulf divides the two hemispheres, the empowered and the dis-empowered, the haves and the have-nots. Instant global communication makes it impossible to hide poverty-whether it be poverty of wealth, of power, or of organizational capability. As this gulf widens, each side feels that it has less and less in common with the other. Antagonisms, frustrations, and resentments build up and find expression through reasserted religious, national, linguistic, and tribal identities. Islam, in particular, is well-adapted to nurture movements deriving their strength from such identities, although the current state of Eastern Europe is testimony that this resurgence is far more general.
It is highly unlikely that an Islamic bomb will ever exist. It is improbable, but not impossible; it could conceivably come into existence if Muslims feel their backs are to the wall. Islam could provide a sufficiently strong legitimizing principle if the whole Muslim nation perceives itself as under attack. There is a suspicion among Muslims that, like the Jews of the 1940s, they are becoming targets for ethnic cleansing. The genocide in Bosnia, the mass expulsion of Palestinians demanded by right-wing parties in Israel, and the collective punishment inflicted on Iraqi civilians are widely perceived to be just such ethnic cleansing. The same suspicions may underpin the search for Muslim power.
The West must not feed the Muslim psychosis. A political, not punitive, approach is needed-one that emphasizes positive diplomacy and the need for regional arrangements. Muslim countries need to be empowered, to regain hope for the future, and to have recourse to justice in their disputes with other nations. This demands a new global democracy which gives them and other nations of the South real political and economic power. The skewed structure of two major international institutions, the Security Council and the International Monetary Fund, needs to be straightened and made representative of the entities each represents.
At the same time, democratic movements for peaceful social change in countries of the South need to be strengthened. No proliferator, and in particular, no Muslim country among them, provides its citizens an existence in which human dignity and liberty are respected. Addiction to armaments, callous and brutal elites, islands of splendor amid vast seas of poverty and human misery, wide-spread corruption and nepotism, and grandiose prestige projects are all too common. These countries, lacking internal dynamism and the strength to confront internal weaknesses, resort to conspiratorial arguments. The South's claim to a higher degree of morality and spirituality is a sham; the treatment of its own citizens testifies to that.
The task of limiting proliferation is a daunting one, and the outcome is uncertain. It is true that the end of the U.S.-Soviet confrontation has created a dramatic new possibility for a world with far fewer nuclear weapons. But this historic opportunity could easily be lost and supplanted by nuclear anarchy, a likely consequence of rapidly spreading, widely available, multi-purpose technologies along with an emerging global scientific culture. Paradoxically, though the chance of many nuclear detonations has shrunk essentially to zero, the chance of a single or few detonations is likely to grow. This is no time for complacency.