CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

'NUCLEAR ARMS RACE'

The Times – 5 October 1994

In the run-up to next year's conference on the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), we can expect many more references to its supposed provisions from opponents of nuclear deterrence like Messrs Pullinger and Harper (letters, September 30).

It is upon Article VI of the NPT that such commentators rely, though they seldom spell it out. What that Article actually states is that:

"Each of the parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control."

There are thus three topics covered by the Article: (a) ending the nuclear arms race; (b) nuclear disarmament; and (c) general and complete disarmament. The important point is that the words ''at an early date'' are applied only to (a), and not to (b) or (c). There is nothing requiring the time-scale for worldwide nuclear disarmament to be shorter than that for general and complete conventional disarmament and for this we should be grateful.

A world in which the major military powers abandoned their nuclear but not their conventional forces would be dangerously unstable. It would become ''safe'' for murderous non-nuclear conflict between countries formerly forced to coexist by the nuclear stalemate. A deadly race to reacquire the Bomb would ensue, with the winner tempted to use it before his rivals could retaliate in kind.

What the NPT demands are effective measures to end the nuclear arms race at an early date – exactly what has been achieved by a successful multilateral approach, in the teeth of opposition from one-sided nuclear disarmers. It also pays, in the same sentence, formal obeisance to the distant dream of both a nuclear-free and an arms-free world.

If Article VI amounts to an ''obligation to negotiate complete nuclear disarmament'', as Dr Pullinger appears to believe, it also requires us to negotiate the end of armed forces in general. President Yeltsin's confirmation in April 1992 that the Soviet Union violated the Biological Weapons Convention for 20 years, and his subsequent problems in trying to stop offensive germ-warfare research in Russia, should make us aware of the practical dangers which threaten such idealised goals.

Dr JULIAN LEWIS
Deputy Director
Conservative Research Department
London SW1