Nuclear Gander

April 08, 1994|By JONATHAN POWER

London. -- Did you read the story? The Clinton administration has decided to authorize the sale to North Korea of state-of-the-art F-16s that can be reconfigured to carry nuclear weapons -- if Kim Il Sung promises to cap, but not necessarily roll back, his current nuclear program and drop his resistance to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Apologies. Correction.

It was Pakistan, not North Korea. It was Benazir Bhutto, not Kim Il Sung.

But is the principle truly different? Does not the CIA itself tell President Clinton that if nuclear war is going to happen it's most likely to break out between Pakistan and India?

And what sense does this make to China? Only last week China was being asked by the West to vote in the U.N. Security Council for sanctions against North Korea. Isn't the sauce for the goose good for the gander? After all, the North-South Korean situation is much more stable than India-Pakistan.

The West, for all its blather against the proliferation of nuclear weapons, has never run a tight ship. Political ambiguity and a frequent blind eye to what Western firms were exporting sowed the whirlwind the West is now reaping.

Pakistan is the worst case. If Jimmy Carter, the father of nuclear non-proliferation, had not allowed himself to be thrown off course by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistan would never have made the nuclear progress it has. President Carter ignored Pakistan's nuclear program in return for an anti-Soviet partnership to arm the Afghani mujahedeen.

Until four years ago, the White House went through an annual ritual of giving assurances that all was well in Pakistan's nuclear laboratories. This enabled the administration to satisfy congressional requirements on the supply of aid, both economic and military. The last four years, however, the Pakistani bomb has become so obvious that the game could be played no longer, and aid and military sales have been terminated. Now the Clinton administration wants to persuade Congress to rewrite the law, accept Pakistan's bomb and reopen the arms conduit.

It was an ill-conceived policy all along. Why, after the Soviet invasion, was it considered that Pakistan had Washington by the tail? Surely it should have been the other way round, with Pakistan on its knees begging for all the help it could get, on any terms that America chose.

Pakistan didn't want the Soviets in Afghanistan for its own good reasons and, indeed, began supplying aid to the mujahedeen before the first American shipments arrived. But Zbigniew Brzezinski couldn't resist being photographed single-handedly holding the Khyber Pass.

The Stinger missiles that, in the end, were used with devastating effect to intimidate the invaders, could have been quietly supplied without allowing Pakistan to gain tolerance of its nuclear program.

If Pakistan and India go to war again, it will be for the astonishingly beautiful piece of Himalayan real estate, Kashmir. For all Pakistan's provocative bomb building, on the Kashmir issue, it may have more right on its side than India, which refuses to permit a free vote and relies on superiority in numbers and weaponry to assert its will.

But Pakistan's case is not enhanced by its possession of nuclear weapons, nor are its chances of winning the tug of war over Kashmir. Nor is Pakistan's security. But Pakistan does make the risk of nuclear war in our time much more dangerous.

There must be no American compromise with Pakistan or North Korea. President Clinton needs to clarify America's nuclear principles.

Jonathan Power writes a column on the Third World.

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