THE current Bush Administration campaign focused on North Korea and Iran having or developing nuclear weapons is misleading and misdirected.
First point - critical to further understanding - is that it is obviously sensible for the United States not to want North Korea or Iran to have nuclear weapons. But it isn't strictly a question of the undesirability of two more countries that don't have nuclear weapons getting them. In fact there are already three countries - India, Israel, and Pakistan - that have nuclear weapons and have not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
It would also be desirable if India, Israel, and Pakistan didn't have nuclear weapons either, or that they had adhered to the NPT, joining its 187 signatories, and their programs were being monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency. So U.S. policy thus becomes not to let the club of nuclear weapons states expand by two, although one of them, Iran, has in fact signed the NPT. North Korea had signed but withdrew in 2003.
We don't hear much about U.S. efforts, if any, to get the three nuclear-armed states to sign the NPT and submit to IAEA monitoring of their programs. So what it may come down to, absent a U.S. global effort to get all countries to renounce nuclear weapons, is that it is acceptable for some nuclear-armed states not to sign the NPT and not be subject to inspections. In other cases it is not, a confused and inconsistent policy.
So it seems that it depends on the nature of the government of the non-signatory nuclear-armed state and the nature of U.S. relations with the government of that state whether the United States cares if it has nuclear weapons. In the case of all three states - India, Israel, and Pakistan - the United States has basically thrown in the towel on trying to get them to sign and then play by the rules.
The most heinous case in point is Pakistan. It is difficult to imagine a state apart from North Korea that one would like less to have an unrestricted, uninspected nuclear weapons program than Pakistan. It turns out that the former head of it, the notorious and ubiquitous A.Q. Khan, was not only something of a genius at stealing the plans for and then developing a nuclear weapons program for Pakistan. He also developed and pursued a sales program for different elements in Pakistan's weapons program that makes U.S. cell-phone sales programs look like miracles of restraint.
If the criterion to apply is the level of responsibility of the country concerned, again, Pakistan blows out all the rules. Since the idea that its highest authorities didn't know what Mr. Khan was doing - as they claim - is truly ludicrous, the decades-long sales program in itself is prima facie evidence of irresponsible government on Pakistan's part. Post-revelation punishment of Mr. Khan has been purely symbolic; he is considered a national hero.
Apart from that, Pakistan is only questionably stable. Its post-independence history is one of successive military coup d'etat regimes interspersed with financially corrupt civilian governments. Pakistan's current president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, was going to give up his military position and become a civilian president, an idea that didn't last long. He is regularly subject to assassination attempts. Who would be able to say what direction Pakistan will go when he leaves the scene?
India is a stable civilian-ruled democracy. It is easier to believe that it has its nuclear weapons in safe hands, under adult supervision, than is the case with Pakistan. At the same time, it is likely that if Pakistan attacked India with nuclear weapons, India would respond in kind, turning South Asia into a nuclear battlefield.
So, basically, these two countries get a pass on NPT adherence and freedom in developing their nuclear weapons programs because in principle they would only use them on each other, thus moving the policy focus to seeing that they don't and encouraging better relations between them, although this leaves out Pakistan's nuclear weapons sales program.
Israel, for the United States, is another story. It has nuclear weapons; it is secretive about its program. The United States is not pushing Israel to sign the NPT because it doesn't push Israel to do anything, particularly when it is hoping that Israel will withdraw its forces and 8,500 settlers from Gaza. A Gaza withdrawal would be an important step toward implementing President Bush's road map to two states, peace, and stability in the Middle East.
But the United States is thus left with a curious policy overall on nuclear non-proliferation. The Bush Administration is holding its breath and turning blue over Iran's and North Korea's programs, while basically giving Pakistan, India, and Israel a free pass on NPT signature and IAEA inspections.
Funny way to run a railroad, particularly when the subject is responsible control of nuclear weapons.
Dan Simpson, a retired diplomat, is a member of the editorial boards of The Blade and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.