Conference focuses on nuclear weapons

POSTED AT 12:00 AM ON Mar. 5, 2001 


Recent tension surrounding the testing of nuclear weapons by India and Pakistan helped spearhead a discussion on the problems associated with the development of nuclear weapons in the Indian Ocean region last week.

The prevention of nuclear weapons has been a part of the national debate for decades, said David Albright, senior research fellow at the Center for the Study of Global Change. The center took part in sponsoring the conference Thursday and Friday in the Moot Court Room of the Law School.

The buildup of nuclear power is taking place in nations surrounding the Indian Ocean, Albright said.

"While we've produced some notable successes," he said, "there are growing indications that proliferation is likely to increase in the years ahead."

The Indian Ocean region is usually examined in sections -- South Asia, the Persian Gulf states, Southern Africa and outlying countries such as Australia, Albright said.

But the conference looked at the entire region and at the impact nuclearization has on its military and politics, most of which lie on the periphery of the Indian Ocean.

The conference first discussed why states want to build nuclear weapons, which was the subject of the keynote speech by Sir Timothy Garden of the Centre for Defence Studies, King's College London.

Other subjects examined by the scholars were the prospects for proliferation and U.S. response to the buildup of weapons of mass destruction.

South Asia, with Indian-Pakistani relations, was a main focus. States in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, such as Israel, Iran and Iraq, and other nations bordering the Indian Ocean in Africa including Australia were also discussed.

Methods of controlling nuclear weapons such as treaties do not always serve as impediments, Albright said. Still, as Garden pointed out, the U.S.-Soviet Union's Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, while not successful, became a model for national missile defense proposals.

Political pressure is used to impede the building of arms, Albright said, but many states lack the leverage to influence others.

Judith Yaphe from the Institute of National Security Studies at the National Defense University spoke about Iraq's nuclear weapons program. The University is a think tank in Washington.

She said although economic sanctions should be lifted in Iraq, the sanctions on developing weapons should not. While the nuclear capability of the country is problematic, the nuclear superpowers cannot stop them, Yaphe said.

"Given the U.S. cannot prevent a country that wants to acquire nuclear capabilities -- we can delay but we can't deny them -- then you have to craft a policy that will cause weapons to be used as a deterrent" rather than as weapons of war, Yaphe said.

There are plausible reasons for a country to develop its nuclear stockpile, Garden said.

"Fear of hostile states must be a major factor," he said. Albright said the political and social relations between countries can also come into play.

A country like Iraq, which has been trying to get nuclear capability since the mid-1970s, wants to be a regional power and get respect from its neighbors, Garden said. It may feel it has nuclear weapons enemies in Israel and potentially Iran. He said Israel may feel surrounded by enemies and lack strategic depth because of its small population.

"There are some states that are isolated, and once isolated, their insecurity tends to feed on itself," Garden said, "and they convince themselves they need to have the ultimate deterrence, or worse, the ultimate weapon for war fighting."

The conference was also sponsored by the India Studies Program, the African Studies Program and the Middle Eastern Studies Program.

"Our intention was to assemble a small group of specialists who can present some of their ideas and views and test them before the group," said Brian Winchester, chairman of the center. The center studies issues of global importance.


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