The recent military clash between India and Pakistan underscores the need for the major nuclear powers -- the US, Russia, China, Britain and France finally to move toward fulfilling their obligations under the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
The Treaty's purpose was not simply to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, but to serve as a temporary measure until Article VI could take effect: the "cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control."
The 191 countries that signed the NPT -- it is the most widely subscribed nuclear treaty on the planet -- did so with the understanding that the major powers would de-nuclearize. But in the 50 years since the Treaty was negotiated, the nuclear powers have yet to seriously address eliminating weapons of mass destruction.
While over the years the Americans and the Russians have reduced the number of warheads in their arsenals, they -- along with China -- are currently in the midst of a major modernization of their weapon systems. Instead of a world without nuclear weapons, it is a world of nuclear apartheid, with the great powers making no move to downsize their conventional forces. For non-nuclear armed countries, this is the worst of all worlds.
The folly of this approach was all too clear in the recent India and Pakistan dustup. While both sides appear to be keeping the crisis under control, for the first time in a very long time, two nuclear powers that border one another exchanged air and artillery attacks.
While so far things have not gotten out of hand, both countries recently introduced military policies that make the possibility of a serious escalation very real.
On the New Delhi side is a doctrine called "Cold Start" that permits the Indian military to penetrate up to 30 kilometers deep into Pakistan if it locates, or is in pursuit of, "terrorists." On the Islamabad side is a policy that gives front line Pakistani commanders the authority to use tactical nuclear weapons.
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