A senior United Nations official dealing with disarmament said Washington's nuclear posture could deal a serious blow to global non-proliferation efforts.
Jayantha Dhanapala, the U.N. under-secretary-general for disarmament said this to U.N. Radio on Tuesday in reaction to press reports of a reassessment by the Pentagon of the United States stance on the development and possible use of nuclear weapons, according to the U.N. Department of Public Information.
"This is a very serious step because it indicates that even if it is a plan, or a conceptual plan, there is some thinking going on in Washington about using nuclear weapons," Dhanapala said.
The reported assessment, known as the Nuclear Posture Review, marked a departure from the past policy of having nuclear weapons "mainly for political purposes of deterring an attack," noted Dhanapala.
He stressed that the use of a nuclear weapon would stand in violation of humanitarian law, a 1996 advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice, and the U.N. Security Council resolution 984 (1995).
The use of a nuclear weapon also "flies in the face of the Nuclear Non-Prolifereation Treaty (NPT)," said the under-secretary- general, calling the contemplated change in U.S. policy "a very major stumbling block as we begin the process of preparing for the 2005 NPT Review Conference."
The first preparatory meeting for that conference will take place next month.
Asked about the implications of reviewed U.S. testing of nuclear weapons, Dhanapala said it would mark a "major setback" by encouraging other countries to discard their obligations under the Comprehensive-Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and the NPT.
"We are going to get an encouragement to nuclear proliferation, rather than reducing the number of countries that have nuclear weapons," he said.