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A Scolding Isn't Enough

July 22, 1987

For years now U.S. intelligence agencies have seen evidence that Pakistan was pursuing the development of nuclear weapons, and for years Washington has been demanding that Pakistan stay out of the bomb-building business. It hasn't worked. Unless the United States is prepared to go beyond mere scolding, the entire American effort to discourage the spread of nuclear weapons will become a joke.

A Canadian of Pakistani origin was arrested in Philadelphia last week and charged with plotting to make illegal purchases of a special steel alloy that is used in making nuclear weapons. At least two similar incidents have occurred in this country alone during the last few years.

The Administration is currently seeking $4 billion in new military and economic assistance for Pakistan over the next six years to replace an aid package that will expire this year. A 1985 law provides for a cutoff of U.S. military assistance to any nation found by the President to have made illegal attempts to acquire U.S. nuclear materials or equipment in order to make a nuclear device.

There is considerable sentiment in Congress for an aid cutoff, and some U.S. officials say that this time the Administration, too, wants concrete measures to back up the renewed Pakistani denials. So far President Reagan has not seen fit to make the necessary finding to trigger an aid cutoff.

Given the evidence, Pakistan's air of injured innocence is unpersuasive, to say the least. But the Administration's reluctance to undertake a tough crackdown is understandable. Pakistan's geographic location makes it of vital strategic importance; it also plays an indispensable role in the flow of weapons to the guerrillas who are opposing the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. With national pride at stake, Pakistan's reaction to a full-blown aid cutoff cannot be predicted.

It's worth remembering, too, that Pakistan's program of nuclear-weapons development is almost certainly a response to neighboring India's explosion in 1974 of a nuclear device manufactured with the unauthorized use of U.S.-supplied heavy water. Pakistan has offered to sign the nuclear anti-proliferation treaty, which requires signatories to open their nuclear-power facilities to international inspection, if India will do the same. So far India has not been willing--nor has Israel, which is widely believed to have a small nuclear arsenal. Pakistanis ask why Congress doesn't threaten to cut off aid to these non-signatory countries, too.

Still, other would-be nuclear states are watching U.S. reactions to Pakistan's very suspect nuclear activities. If nothing is done, the anti-proliferation effort will lose all credibility and the world will be on its way to becoming a much more dangerous place. To dramatize the sharpness of U.S. concern, Reagan should declare a temporary suspension of aid--perhaps 90 days--during which he would seek reliable evidence that Pakistan is not pursuing a nuclear-weapons program. The government in Karachi would be able to figure out for itself that, if such evidence was not forthcoming, Congress just might make the ban permanent.

The Administration should, at the same time, seek to mobilize international pressures on India and other non-signatories to join Pakistan in signing the anti-proliferation treaty.

Pakistan should understand that its own self-interest lies in pulling back from nuclear-weapons development before it's too late. In June, 1981, Israeli military planes destroyed a nuclear reactor in Iraq that it believed was destined for production of nuclear explosives. In March, 1984, Iraq attempted a similar raid on partly completed nuclear facilities in Iran. Pakistan is inviting the same sort of preemptive strike by India or some other nation if it continues on its present course.

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