Letter: Nuclear powers' commitments

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Sir: The review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) starts today (17 April). The nuclear-weapon states, headed by the US, are hoping to get the treaty extended indefinitely. If the nuclear powers (US, France, China, Britain and Russia) manage to achieve support for an indefinite extension, it would deal a serious blow to the campaign of nuclear disarmament and the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Since the NPT came into existence in 1970, the main thrust of the nuclear- weapons states has been to prevent the nuclear-weapon capability passing into the hands of non-nuclear states. To that end, the NPT has worked quite well. But on nuclear disarmament, however, it has not been very successful. This is because the nuclear powers have not honoured their NPT obligations on disarmament with the same commitment and enthusiasm as they did on nuclear non-proliferation.This is borne out by the fact that, whereas since 1970 to the end of the Cold War only three states (India, Pakistan, Israel) acquired nuclear-weapon capability, the number of nuclear warheads developed by the Big Five increased by 300 per cent.

With the end of the Cold War, there has been a substantial reduction in nuclear weapons under the Salt-1 (Strategic Arms Reduction Talks) treaty. But this reduction has been brought about by the improved international environment, not by the nuclear powers' perceived commitment to the NPT. In fact, for decades the nuclear-weapon states have been known for dragging their feet on disarmament, which is demanded by Article 6 of the NPT.

An indefinite extension of the NPT in its present form should, therefore, be resisted, for unconditional extension would only relieve pressure on the nuclear powers to honour their NPT obligations on disarmament. The NPT should be extended for a limited period of time with a firm commitment by the five nuclear-weapon states towards the abolition of all nuclear arsenals within an agreed time frame.

Yours faithfully,

RANDHIR SINGH BAINS

Gants Hill, Essex

15 April

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