Prague, 24 April 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT, draws comment in the Western press today as the 187 parties to the treaty start their four-week review conference at the United Nations in New York.
NEW YORK TIMES: An effective international consensus on proliferation issues will not come easily
The New York Times starts off its editorial on the subject gloomily, saying: "The past few years have been discouraging ones for efforts to check the spread of nuclear weapons. India and Pakistan have abruptly pushed their way into the club of states possessing such arms. North Korea, Iraq and Iran are pressing against the door." And the editorial notes that of the four countries that have not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty -- India, Pakistan, Israel and Cuba -- only Cuba does not already have nuclear capability.
What is needed, the New York Times says, "is a stronger international consensus to discourage any new development of nuclear weapons and to dismantle more of those that now exist." The editorial says positive outcome to the conference would include a commitment to further reductions in nuclear arms stockpiles, and more intrusive inspections of nuclear countries by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
"An effective international consensus on proliferation issues will not come easily," the editorial says. "But establishing one would impart a new and necessary urgency to the challenge of curbing nuclear weapons, thereby reducing the risks of nuclear war."
At least, the New York Times notes approvingly, Russia's recent ratification of several arms-control treaties sets a positive tone for the NPT review conference.
NEW YORK TIMES: Russia offers a constructive alternative to the disruption of strategic stability
Russia's Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov makes that point forcefully in his own commentary in the New York Times. "Having ratified the package of START-2 and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty agreements," Ivanov says, "Russia has done its part. The ball is now in the court of the United States."
Ivanov argues that the U.S. desire to amend the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, or ABM, and build a limited defense against nuclear weapons would undermine these gains.
The U.S. says its proposed missile defense would be sufficient only to counter a terrorist or rogue-state threat, not to undermine the deterrent effect of Russia's large nuclear weapons force. But the Russian foreign minister paints a grim picture of complete breakdown of the arms-control regime: "Everyone should be aware that the collapse of the ABM treaty would have a destructive domino effect for the existing system of disarmament agreements. The terms on which Start I and II were agreed would change. Even from the formal point of view, if the United States withdrew from the ABM treaty, Russia would not be bound by its strategic arms reduction obligations. The further question of the fate of agreements on medium- and shorter-range missiles would arise. Finally, the development of Start III would be disrupted. We would be back in an era of suspicion and confrontation."
Ivanov suggests that, rather than building a missile defense, the U.S. and Russia should instead implement a joint program to prevent the proliferation of missiles and missile technologies.
He spells out the limits of cooperation quite clearly: "Russia is prepared to cooperate with America and other countries in creating systems of nonstrategic antimissile defense that are not banned under the 1972 ABM treaty." And, he says, further cuts in both sides' arsenals under START-III will reduce the threat of proliferation.
"In short," Ivanov sums up, "the Russian side offers a constructive alternative to the disruption of strategic stability. And we are also open to positive ideas of the American side aimed at further cooperation in the disarmament field. The decision of the parliament on the Start-ABM package is, in effect, our invitation."
BOSTON GLOBE: Nuclear states must "de-alert" their nuclear weapons
The Boston Globe asserts that simply curbing the spread of nuclear weapons is not enough. To avoid accidents, it says in an editorial, nuclear states must "de-alert" their nuclear weapons, by removing the warheads from the missiles.
The newspaper cites an episode in 1995 when the Russian military mistook a U.S. weather rocket for a missile, and Russian leaders came within four minutes of authorizing a nuclear retaliation.
"In the five years since that close call," the editorial says, "the likelihood of a nuclear catastrophe caused by a false alarm has only become greater. The deteriorating computers and communications equipment in Russia's nuclear command system malfunction more often. Russian early-warning satellites and ground radar installations are more likely than ever to produce nuclear false alarms. Underpaid, unpaid, demoralized, and suicidal personnel in Russian nuclear units add to the peril of an apocalyptic accident."
The Boston Globe suggests removing the nuclear warheads from their delivery missiles and storing them, under multinational verification, at separate sites.
It says this: "The model for such de-alerting was the unilateral action of George Bush in September 1991 in the aftermath of the coup attempt in the Soviet Union. All bombs were then taken off U.S. planes and sequestered. When he returned to Moscow, Mikhail Gorbachev reciprocated. Those sage precautions taken by Bush and Gorbachev should become models for the de-alerting of all nuclear missiles in the world's current state of permanent peril."
WASHINGTON POST: This must be the Horn of Africa's last cycle of war and famine
The Washington Post addresses a peril that is already claiming lives -- famine in Ethiopia. In an editorial, the Post says: "The first few hundred deaths from starvation have been recorded in drought-scorched southern Ethiopia. Thousands of people have turned up in feeding centers. Visitors report seeing bone-thin wanderers cadging morsels from passing cars. The carcasses of dead livestock litter the rock-hard earth. It is a bleak tableau that seems to portend a repeat of the 1985 famine, which killed a million Ethiopians before a worldwide aid mobilization finally brought the dying to a halt."
That previous famine was mostly a result of war and the disastrous agricultural policies of then-leader Mengistu Haile Mariam. This famine, the paper says, is partly caused by a prolonged drought, but it is exacerbated by a costly border war with neighboring Eritrea. The Washington Post says Ethiopia and Eritrea spend $1 million a day on the war while the people starve.
"How should the international community respond?" the paper asks. "True, food aid frees up more Ethiopian resources for the war; but doing nothing is not an option. Callous as their government's priorities may be, Ethiopia's drought victims should not have to suffer because of them."
The Post says the international community must send aid, and must pressure Ethiopia to allow aid to be delivered in the quickest way possible -- through Eritrean ports. And, it concludes, "international mediation efforts to end the pointless border war, including the worthy one quietly being pursued by the Clinton administration, need to be infused with new urgency. This must be the Horn of Africa's last cycle of war and famine."