Nuclear weapons – proliferating nonsense (1)

ONE morning in the mid-1970s, a delegation from apartheid South Africa filed into the Conference Room at The Los Angeles Times–where I was then employed–to meet with the editorial board.  

     Among the visitors was Connie Botha, Minister of Information, who made a most surprising, and ominous, gesture.

      Spotting a Black man in the boardroom, Botha broke formation and extended his hand. Our thumbs hooked and our palms clasped: In what, to my astonishment, was a “Black Power” handshake!

     Botha was a white politician–a Boer, no less! But the apartheid system was collapsing. So he obviously stroked me in desperation, hoping to melt down my resistance.

     It didn’t work. I opposed editorial support, even for a “reformist” apartheid administration. Indeed, once the shock of Botha’s gesture had worn off, I succumbed to a sense of foreboding: A feeling that blacks in South Africa were in for a royal screw, as the oppressor retooled politically and changed tactics.

     What brings this incident to mind is a short phone interview I had recently, with Senator Robert A. Boroffice, Chairman of the Senate Committee On Science and Technology—and formerly the Director General of the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA), which he established.

     My call to Boroffice, was part of the research for “Nigeria And The Hydrogen Era,” the two-part serial I just concluded. I wanted his take on the possibility of Nigeria becoming the first African state to join the International Partnership for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells in the Economy (IPHE).

     What I got was a big surprise. I was no more prepared for what the Senator would say, than I had been for Botha’s Black Power handshake.

     “Well,” he mused, “I guess it would be alright, for Nigeria to be in IPHE. But we should think things through carefully, before entering international agreements—less we repeat our mistake, in signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty”.  

     The Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is one of two international accords, which prohibit Nigeria from developing a nuclear deterrent. The other is the African Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Treaty, also known as the Treaty of Pelindaba.

     The Non Proliferation Treaty is better known. Being international in scope, it naturally gets more attention from the global media. But the Pelindaba agreement, signed at the complex where South Africa had developed at least six atomic bombs, in no less insidious—and vastly more absurd.

     Hence I hung on every word from Boroffice. Was I hearing him correctly? Was the Senator suggesting that political leaders erred, in signing away Nigeria’s right to build nuclear weapons?

     “As far as I know,” he assured me, “no one is thinking about building an atomic bomb; and I certainly am not proposing that.

     “But we should have kept all our strategic options open, as India, Pakistan and Israel did” he continued. “After all, no one knows the future. Who can say what course of action our national interests might dictate, somewhere down the line?”

     Actually, Boroffice has no interest in nuclear devices. His main concern is the technology—a concern that falls squarely within the purview of his congressional committee. “Nuclear technology, at this level, he avers, “involves a great deal more than explosive devices”.

     Space exploration, where nuclear power is required for long distance travel, might have been cited as a case in point. Infrastructure and industry too are vital. Bomb construction is really a small percentage of the cost involved. It is the industrial and infrastructural support system that bloats the budget.

     So taken aback was I, with the candor and counterintuitive thought emanating from the Abuja end of the line, that I withheld Boroffice’s remarks from “Hydrogen”–and decided, instead, to build a separate column around them.

     But a caveat needs to be inserted here. Senator Boroffice’s concerns are confined to nuclear technology, apparently to the exclusion of explosive devices. Not my own.  If you’ve been reading “Astronomy—With J.K. Obatala,” over the years, you know where I stand!

      At the risk of boring my older readers, let me clue the newer ones in. I believe Nigeria should, and must, become a nuclear armed state. There simply is no strategic alternative. A country without nuclear weapons is, for all intents and purposes, unarmed—and Earth is a dangerous place to be unarmed.

•To be continued.

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