New Players, More Cultures

April 24, 1995|By JEANE KIRKPATRICK

WASHINGTON — Washington. There is a new pattern of international politics now taking shape that differs in important respects from the bipolar politics of the Cold War and the Eurocentric world of the pre-World War II years. The configuration now includes new players, more cultures and even more deadly weapons.

Before World War II what we called ''world'' politics was strictly European balance of power. During the Cold War, that gave way to ideological politics. Multipolar international relations became bipolar relations.

European nations lost their customary scope to maneuver. The center of political gravity shifted -- at first imperceptibly -- away from the heart of Europe to mega-states on the periphery. Europe became the object of a power struggle into which the whole world was sucked.

In the bipolar world of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union assumed great importance to the European continent and the rest of the world. Smaller states functioned as components of ideological blocs. Military alliances spanned the globe. The destructiveness of weapons escalated.

But the number of nuclear powers was limited by the restrictive policies of the major powers, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the weak technological bases of the Third World nations. As the controls of the major powers weakened and the technological bases of other nations developed, the number of nuclear powers increased more rapidly than acknowledged.

When the Soviet Union self- destructed, Cold War politics imploded. Great accumulations of expertise, materiel and bombs were released into the market. And the controls that had inhibited diffusion of arms power were relaxed.

Meanwhile, in the configuration now emerging, the United States became a great power but not a super one. Western European countries, having decided that only superpowers count, are forging a new European Union -- which seeks a single foreign and security policy. Outside Europe middle-sized powers are scrambling for influence and arms -- and in some cases finding them. Most of the emerging middle-sized powers are non-Western. Iraq was the first to challenge a regional order. The new prominence of Iran in international news is one harbinger of the world to come.

Now we read that Iran's foreign minister visited India seeking to forge links with Third World leaders, to obtain nuclear power -- and to contact potential arms suppliers. Iran -- so our government thinks -- is scrambling to develop a nuclear capacity to produce its own nuclear weapons and to that end seeks reliable sources of technology, plutonium and personnel. The United States, worried as always about weapons of mass destruction spreading, appeals to its partners in the new world order -- Russia and China -- not to help the Iranian government complete its nuclear reactors.

But Russia and China remind the Americans that Iran has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which the United States is now working hard to extend. As a signatory, Iran is entitled to help from the IAEA and others. The oil-rich Iranians offer smiling assurances that they desire to complete the reactors only to guarantee themselves a source of inexpensive energy. If you believe that, you will believe anything.

Iran's recent purchases on the world's arms market have been the subject of public concern on several continents and the object of intense scrutiny by major intelligence agencies and private investigators.

The prospect of a strengthened weapons industry and an independent nuclear capacity in Iran should be at least as disturbing as similar prospects in North Korea. Like North Korea, the Iranian government is based on an expansionist ideology and has repeatedly expressed destructive intentions toward its neighbors -- Israel, Turkey, Egypt, among others. Like North Korea, Iran has a record of terrorism and is also the capital of a messianic ideology, Islam. Like North Korea, Iran sells whatever it gets to friendly governments -- in Algeria, Libya, Syria and elsewhere; and it supplies arms to friends -- including recently, newspapers tell us, to Bosnian government forces so long denied arms under the U.N. embargo.

Iran's location on the Persian Gulf and its oil riches enable it to operate south and west around the Mediterranean Sea, and into Syria and the Bekaa Valley, and into Europe, North Africa and Asia, where it finds interested audiences among Asian Muslims, and sophisticated suppliers in China, Pakistan and North Korea.

How many countries will develop weapons of mass destruction in this emerging world order? No one knows. The number is still growing; the dangers still multiply. The non-proliferation treaty is still the best answer in sight.

Jeane Kirkpatrick is a syndicated columnist.

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