China goes out with a bang Geneva talks: Chances improve for nuclear test ban treaty.

August 01, 1996

THE WORLD'S HOPE for a cessation of nuclear weapons test explosions rose when China exploded its 45th device since 1964 and joined France in saying its own tests are over. It was a small underground blast hours before 61 nations resumed the Conference on Disarmament at Geneva.

The rush to conclude testing before the conference is one of the few reassuring signs that China's present rulers actually pay heed to world opinion. Like the conservative President Jacques Chirac of France, the Communist President Jiang Zemin of China finally did what his foreign critics kept lecturing him to do.

Now that the world's five admitted nuclear powers have each unilaterally stopped testing, the chance of a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty emerging from this conference is that much improved. But not a sure thing.

China still has reservations about inspections. India leads the near-nuclear powers in objecting to freezing the strategic advantage of the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France. It demands a phased disarmament by those powers in return for taking the pledge. India, Israel and Pakistan are assumed to have nuclear weapons in assembled or kit form, though only India is confirmed to have exploded a device.

The apparent end of underground nuclear testing (China's last atmospheric bomb was in 1980) is a step forward. Adoption of a comprehensive test ban treaty would be another. As the world grows more crowded, weapons proliferation remains a great threat. Nuclear weapons are only one dimension, others being chemical and biological weapons, mass distribution of land mines and conventional weaponry.

A comprehensive test ban treaty would not solve all problems. It would go a long way to reducing one of them.

Pub Date: 8/01/96

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