America's delusion


LONDON -- So, India has conducted its second test of a nuclear weapon, and its third, fourth, fifth and sixth, in the past few days. That puts it 1,026 tests behind the United States. And we are "shocked"!

What now comes from Washington is sanctimony of the on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand variety.

On the one hand, the U.S. government proclaims the most cynical and hypocritical nonsense about our stewardship -- God-given, we think -- of the right to destroy any other nation that does not meet our own unquestioned standards of morality and good manners.

On the other hand, we project truly charming self-delusion about our role and image in what we like to see now as the global tribe yearning for the benefits of American-bestowed consumer democracy.

Unfortunately there is some truth to "on the other hand." Most nations, at least the big ones, do want at least one of the things the United States has: the official symbol and reality of modern national adulthood, nuclear weapons.

What surprise?

Can there really be anyone in the United States, including the entire State Department and our comic Central Intelligence Agency -- more central to our delusions than intelligent about other realities -- who is surprised by this big bang? Well, perhaps our ambassador, a former governor of Ohio, was a bit taken aback. Or, maybe he actually did know something. What better place to be than vacationing in Hawaii when India blew off a big one just 70 miles from the border of its adversary, Pakistan?

By the way, isn't that 20 miles closer than the Russians got with medium-range missiles in Cuba when we were ready to go to dTC war over the possibility that those wobbly rockets could accommodate nuclear warheads?

This has been coming for a long, long time -- and we have been foolishly or deliberately looking the wrong way for decades. In 1983, we, the Reeves family, were living in the district called E-7, the best neighborhood in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan.

Like everyone else around there, including U.S. diplomats, we knew why military cars arrived each morning to take the fellow around the corner, Abdul Qadeer Khan, to his office -- or laboratory. Mr. Khan was in charge of building an atomic bomb out in the Pakistani desert at a place called Kahuta. This was the so-called "Islamic bomb," ready for use against India, which had conducted its first test in 1974.

Whether Pakistan has actually bolted together its bomb, I do not know. But on Tuesday, Abdul Qadeer Khan said: "We are like a cook waiting for the orders." In other words, he assured Pakistanis, they can match India.

Actually, they can't, but such are the misperceptions that lead to wars. India is emphasizing that it is concerned about Pakistan obtaining missiles from China. And at this point in history, after three India-Pakistan wars, it is arguable that the Indians are indeed more anxious to prepare for conflict with China, or with both China and Pakistan than with Pakistan alone.

It is time for American preaching about hellfire to come. But only Americans will listen closely to such bluster from the bully's pulpit. The rest of the world has heard it all before. They are laughing at it again in India as they celebrate their own advances.

From the very beginning, back in 1945, U.S. nuclear policy has had a single goal: non-proliferation. Non-proliferation -- think about it -- meant monopoly. It means now that the nuclear club, headed by the United States, wants the bomb only for those who already have one.

Our policy is hypocritical and delusionary, but not stupid. What was stupid was to believe that countries such as India and Pakistan would act on U.S. words and illusions rather than on their own national interests and fears.

This American blunder of intelligence and intellect is not another inside-the-Beltway, Ken-and-Monica joke. This is an affair of state, a failure of state. Officials should not be subpoenaed or mocked; they should resign or be fired.

Richard Reeves is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 5/14/98

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