Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Soviet nuclear policy not so 'clean'

As a nuclear power, the USSR has always been an enthusiastic supporter of strict controls over the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Moreover, it was one of the initiators and first signers of the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and it has maintained the tightest reins imaginable over those members of the Warsaw Pact alliance with nuclear reactors in operation -- Romania, Czechoslovakia, Poland, East Germany, Bulgaria, and Hungary, three of whom (East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Poland) are also suppliers of nuclear tehcnology to other nations of the world.

In contrast to this picture in the East, the West presents a kaleidoscope of nuclear "leakages" -- that is, export of nuclear knowhow and equipment outside the bloc of the "nuclear club" -- leading to the kind of situation in which, say , Iraq, though a signer of the NPT, could be well on the road to obtaining the means to manufacture atomic weapons. Brazil, South Africa, Pakistan, Iraq, and South Korea, to name the major recipients, have all taken advantage of French or West German willingness to sell them uranium-enrichment and plutonium-reprocessing technologies.

About these ads

If nonproliferation has been high on the list of Western priorities -- as some nonsigners of the NPT, like France, say it is -- certain Western nations have demonstrated a strange loyalty to the NPT principle. Clearly, they have let commercial profit take precedence over the world's security from the spread of lethal nuclear weaponry, although exporters of nuclear technology such as West Germany and France stoutly maintain that they "watch" the importers to make sure that they do not acquire the ability to make bombs.

But on the Soviet side, too, breaches in the loyalty to the NPT have begun to appear. In the aftermath of the Israeli raid on the Iraqi reactor last June 7, Soviet challenges to the nonproliferation regime may be expected to increase.

Moscow has in fact played politics with nonproliferation. The USSR vehemently protests what it claims is acquisition of nuclear- bomb know-how by Israel and the Republic of South Africa, but at the same time helps Qaddafi's Libya become a nuclear-weapons producer. Libya is considered by experts definitely to be an A-bomb "aspirant," along with Iraq, Pakistan, South Africa, South Korea, and Taiwan.

Although the smallish reactor the Russians sold to Libya must be augmented by Libyan purchases of additional material and technology (either from the USSR or secretly elsewhere), Moscow obviously had made a political statement in favor of the volatile Libyan leader and his expansionist and reckless ambitions and policies in opening the nuclear road to Qaddafi.

Likewise, the Kremlin has been noticeably selective in its condemnations of states who appear to be, or already are, on the threshold of becoming nuclear-weapons producers. For instance, its reaction to India's explosion of a nuclear device in 1974 lacked any of the concern that Moscow shows for alleged possession of A-bombs by either South Africa or Israel, both of which have legitimate security concerns in regions of intense hostility, some of which is at least encouraged by the Soviet Union.

Also, in the matter of Soviet cultivation of breeder reactors and the reproduction of plutonium, the USSR in effect defies NPT efforts to confine production of explosive plutonium worldwide. While the United States (notably, under the Carter administration) has sought to discourage use of plutonium, even for peaceful purposes (this was embodied in the US Nonproliferation Act of 1978) , the USSR, together with several West European countries and Japan, has refused to scale down its expanding plutonium and breeder-reactor program.

Its answer to criticism is that uranium is not an inexhaustible material, that with breeder reactors the Soviet Union can multiply the power available from a given amount of uranium by 100 times. It insists that there is no connection between widespread use of breeder reactors -- in the USSR or abroad -- and NPT efforts to control the spread of nuclear-weapons production. Meanwhile, the Soviets go on cooperating with the French in Expanding breeder research and reliance on breeders as sources of energy.

About these ads

The bottom line amounts to a plague on both houses, Eastern and Western. But there is an attendant danger, so far as the Moscow position on proliferation is concerned. Its "winking" at nuclear explosions by friends (i.e., India), its lending of nuclear know-how to extremist regimes (i.e., Libya), must be matched with the Kremlin's overall world view in the present nuclear era.That view, as stated in a variety of authoritative texts, admits that nuclear weapons are extremely dangerous but also insists that fear or "fetishism" over the lethalness of nuclear weapons must not be allowed to obscure the "class- war" aspects of the present East-West struggle between what the Kremlin calls "social progress" and "capitalist imperialism."

This two-camp struggle, Soviet ideologists and military writers maintain, is the centerpiece of contemporary world events. If local or world war embodied some aspect of this struggle, soviet authorities say, such a war would be deemed "just" no matter what kinds of weapons were used. In fact, Soviet writings go so far as to claim that if a cataclysmic nuclear world war were "launched by the imperialists," it would not only notm mean the utter destruction of world civilization but would, in fact, entail the "ultimate destruction of imperialism and the institution of eternal peace," to qu ote from the new edition of the Soviet Military Encyclopedia

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.