Keeping The Bomb From Saddam

Short of a military strike against Iraq's nuclear installations, the West faces tough choices in preventing Saddam Hussein from obtaining full-fledged nuclear weapons capability. The notion of using the Paris-based Coordinating Committee on Multilateral Export Controls (COCOM) to keep nuclear-related technology out of Iraq's hands is promising, and the Bush Administration will broach this notion at a meeting in Paris next month.

But COCOM was devised to keep sensitive technology away from the Soviet bloc, and some of the key countries that have been helping Iraq are not COCOM members. Aside from the Soviet Union, countries such as Pakistan, North Korea, and China are suspected of helping Iraq to enrich uranium or develop its missile capability.

Washington also wants to beef up the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, plus London- and Australia-based groups that monitor trade in nuclear materials. The Administration is also seeking ways to use the U. N. to restrict access to nuclear weapons.

Yet the fact is that there seems to be no effective way to stop Saddam's quest for the bomb without addressing the broader issue of nuclear nonproliferation. Other countries that are said to be on the nuclear threshold include Argentina, Brazil, Egypt, India, Israel, South Africa, and Taiwan. Although there are a handful of specific technologies that are still firmly in Western hands, the nuclear genie is very close to having escaped the bottle. Either the West faces up to the challenge of containing the global spread of nuclear-related technology, or it is only a matter of time before some madman brandishes a fistful of nuclear bombs. The institutions and mechanisms exist. It is a question of will and long-term commitment.

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