The recent underground tests of British nuclear weapons has focused attention on a question whose moral implications will be blunted in the public mind if, in the near future, a large part of the world "goes nuclear." There may be still time for Britain to weigh up these implications before the stage is set for an entirely new nuclear era.
Particularly relevant — and depressing — in this context is the recentness of India's successful explosion of an underground nuclear "device." Not unnoticed has been the irony of the fact that India, source of so much profound thinking on the creative possibilities of nonviolence, should now have become the sixth member of the nuclear club.
No rules have been broken by India in taking this action. The explosion was underground and thus not in violation of the partial Test Ban Treaty. India was not a signatory of the NonProliferation Treaty. Its Government has firmly stated that it intends to use its new power only for peaceful purposes. But this affirmation has been received with widespread scepticism and is anyway denied by an Indian Opposition party. Mrs Gandhi has said that the development is "nothing to get excited about." In fact, the line between peaceful and non-peaceful use is a difficult one to draw. It becomes a question of intention rather than of capability; hence the extreme uneasiness felt in some quarters about the recent undertakings given to Egypt by President Nixon.
All of these moves, the Nixon initiative in particular, bring the world to a new and more dangerous stage. The Nixon manoeuvre is regrettable, and understandable only in light of the President's desperate efforts to gain friends abroad as he loses more and more of them at home. The position is obviously quite different in India. For Indian delivery systems, rockets and planes are behind British schedules but still capable of posing a major threat to Pakistan.
The consequences of all this must be clearly understood. There are 15 countries with commercial nuclear reactors which could follow India's lead and soon there will be 40. Israel has more than enough information and (especially since the Nixon visit) quite enough motive in its own Judgement for further nuclear development.
, The pending British tests underline anew the basically illusory security nuclear weapons, par
ticularly in the days since Britain broke the twosuper-power monopoly and thus caused the first breakthrough to nuclear escalation. More pressing than ever becomes Article Six of the NonProliferation Treaty which calls on us "to pursue negotiations . . for cessation of the nuclear arms race . . . and nuclear disarmament."
As Catholics, moreover, we now have renewed cause to reflect on Paragraph 81 of the Vatican Council's Decree on The Church in the Modern World, which called the arms race "an utterly treacherous trap for humanity which injures the poor to an intolerable degree." If the price, said to be £100 million, of updating the British Polaris warhead is correct, such expenditure must be openly justified. This may well be possible on the basis that, as a final recourse, Britain's only safe system for defence is her own and that, therefore, it must be fully up to date. The alternative is drastic de-escalation.
If this is ever to happen, now is the time for a major decision of principle.