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Aiming too high?

india Updated: Oct 24, 2007 22:32 IST

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As in previous years, there is very little to cheer about this International Disarmament Week . October 24 marks the day in 1945 when a majority of signatories and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) ratified the UN Charter. Although the notion of global disarmament has popped up in subsequent pages of history, it has obviously remained wishful thinking. In fact, global spending on arms has risen steadily over the years. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates that in 2006, world military expenditure topped $ 2,000 billion — almost 3 per cent of the world GDP, representing a 40 per cent increase over the last ten years.

But, alas, an edgy world remains unconvinced by these statistics. This is evident from the way Washington ratchets up the nuclear rhetoric against Iran, and the Russian President thinks loudly about his ‘grandiose plan’ to expand his country’s nuclear arsenal. There is clearly a crying need for the revival of global disarmament efforts as hotspots — be it Iraq’s northern border with Turkey, which looks set to deteriorate into war, or a dangerously drifting Pakistan — smoulder across the globe. This is a good time for major nuclear States like the US to acknowledge that there is a better chance to dissuade countries like North Korea and Iran from developing nuclear weapons, if they themselves begin to move away from these weapons. Iran’s nuclear programme, for instance, is only a symptom of the real problem: the existence of nuclear weapons in the stockpiles of eight other nations.

In that sense, the fear of Iran’s atomic ambitions should actually be a wake-up call to the larger menace of nuclear proliferation in the world. It was at a similar tipping point in the nuclear age in the 1960s that the vision of a nuclear weapons-free world led to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). And Article VI of the treaty commits nuclear weapons States to move towards nuclear disarmament. So the permanent members of the UNSC (US, Russia, China, Britain and France) are themselves in violation of the NPT as long as they don’t make attempts to abolish nuclear weapons and strengthen global security.