LET ME be clear at the outset (since it will likely be forgotten by readers who manage to get past this paragraph) that I consider dissuading more countries from obtaining nuclear weapons to be quite a good idea and preventing terrorists from getting them to be an even better one. Indeed, I am even persuaded from time to time that the world might well be better off if the countries who now have them gave them up. Perhaps we could start with the French, who cling to an arsenal presumably under the imaginative notion that the weapons might one day prove useful should Nice be savagely bombarded from the sea or should a truly unacceptable number of Africans in former French colonies take up English.
My concern, however, is that the obsessive quest to control nuclear proliferation-particularly since the end of the Cold War-has been substantially counterproductive and has often inflicted dire costs. Specifically, the effort to prevent proliferation has enhanced the appeal of-or desperate desire for-nuclear weapons for some regimes, even as it has resulted in far more deaths than have been caused by all nuclear-or even all Weapons of Mass Destruction-detonations in all of history.
Presidents, White House hopefuls, congressmen, those in the threat-assessment business and the American public are convinced the biggest danger to the United States, and perhaps even the entire world order, comes from the two-pronged threat of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism. This concern is understandable, but it is overwrought and has had undesirable consequences.
Casualties of the Non-proliferation Quest