hat old debate has come back to haunt the world again.
Do the world's official nuclear powers have the right to prevent others from building nuclear weapons?
Morally, no one will deny that nuclear weapons are the scourge of mankind. Apart from accidents, the thought of such weapons falling into terrorist hands remain the unending nightmare of national security agencies worldwide.
Realistically, every nation -- well, almost every nation -- believes that such weapons will not only ensure their own security, but also allow them to take their rightful place on the world stage.
This feeling was further reinforced after India and Pakistan tried to gatecrash the nuclear weapons club in May 1998, and got off reasonably lightly as far as international reactions went.
Of course, whether or not it actually boosted the security of the two nations or just levelled the uneven conventional military balance in the subcontinent is still being debated.
But neither Pakistan nor India were signatories to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Iran is.
The other non-signatories are Israel and Cuba. On April 10, North Korea became the first nation to pull out from the treaty, having given the necessary three month notice in January. North Korea is also the only nation that claims to possess nuclear weapons without actually ever having tested.
Essentially, the NPT, which came into force in 1970, is aimed at preventing the nuclear powers from proliferation, while the non-nuclear powers pledged to refrain from developing weapons.
Many people who otherwise objected to the war on Iraq, another signatory, believed that if Baghdad did violate the NPT, it ought to be severely punished so that other signatories didn't get ideas.
The US, which has been loudly asserting that Iran does have a weapons programme, is obviously disappointed that a report prepared by the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Commission] falls just short of saying this.
According to the report, leaked to the press before being submitted to the 35-member board of the UN's nuclear watchdog, while Iran has been engaged in clandestine research for nearly 20 years, there was no evidence that it was linked to a weapons programme.
"Iran's policy of concealment continued until last month, with cooperation being limited and reactive and information being slow in coming, changing and contradictory. (But) Following the adoption of the board's resolution the government of Iran informed that Iran had now adopted a policy of full disclosure... Since that time Iran has shown active cooperation and openness," Reuters quoted a senior official reading from the report.
Way back in 1995, in a paper titled