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A troubling lesson from Libya: Don't give up nukes

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To fuse the gap between the "security haves" and "have nots," the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was born in 1970. It encouraged the nuclear countries to provide have-nots with expertise and infrastructure to exploit peaceful nuclear technology. The ultimate goal was full disarmament for all. But the nuclear-weapon states never disarmed while the security circumstances for the nonnuclear states remained. A few countries, namely Israel, India, and Pakistan, stayed out of the NPT to pursue weapons programs of their own. Others decided to flirt with "nuclear latency" – having all the ingredients and infrastructure of making weapons, yet not possession.

After the Soviet Union's demise, the prospect of nuclear disarmament became more hopeful. Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and post-apartheid South Africa intellectually challenged the role of nuclear weapons for deterrence. A nescient, reenergized emphasis was placed on international law as the ultimate and legitimate arbiter of state security. Nuclear and nonnuclear states made ambitious but vague pledges to realize the disarmament goal of the NPT. Subsequent Russian and American arms-control agreements and the creation of nuclear-free weapons zones in South America and Africa added to this new cooperative spirit.

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