Since 1945, when America ushered in the nuclear age with bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a lot of energy has been devoted to trying to limit the number of countries with nuclear weapons.
LIANE HANSEN, host:
NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr.
SCHORR: Non-proliferation, they called it. An exception was made for Britain, which came up with its bomb in 1952. In 1955, in a summit in Geneva, President Eisenhower tried to persuade the Soviet Union to join in a peaceful atomic program. But the Soviets would have none of that, having already tested their first bomb in 1949, fashioned with the aid of espionage at Los Alamos. So then in 1960 came France, whose notion of French glory required a nuclear force de frappe, a nuclear strike force. And in 1964 China, and probably in 1967, although never officially confirmed, Israel. The world was getting very unsafe.
And so in 1970, 187 countries signed a Non-Proliferation Treaty, offering to help nations develop peaceful nuclear energy programs if they would foreswear weapons and agree to submit to international inspection. That did not keep Pakistan and India from going nuclear in 1998.
Every five years, the signatories to the treaty would meet, as they're doing now in New York, for some joint nail-biting about who would be the next to crash the nuclear club. Today, the current top candidates, as you might expect, are North Korea and Iran.
Iran denies it is working on weapons, although without inspection it's hard to know. North Korea, which expelled international inspectors, has announced that it has nuclear weapons and has not denied reports that it's planning to test one of them.
What makes the current situation so complicated is that countries have discovered that the belief that they may have nuclear weapons gives them an enormous bargaining chip in negotiating for economic aid and diplomatic recognition. An example of the manifold uses of hinting about nuclear development is Iran, which has advised European powers that it's willing to give negotiation a try before making a final decision about resuming its nuclear program.
Just whisper `uranium enrichment' and you gain the anxious ear of the big powers. Six decades into the nuclear age, it becomes harder to tell whether a country is lying when it says it's going nuclear, or when it says it isn't. This is Daniel Schorr.
HANSEN: It's 22 minutes before the hour.
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