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Iran and the iPod

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It seems that our children and grandchildren may grow up in a world with more atom bombs and more iPods. I'm disturbed by the first part but not the second. It's good to sell more iPods. They are entertaining and harmless (leaving aside potential damage to a kid's hearing, as old rockers can attest). They're American, and each one sold overseas brings money back home. But atom bombs are the exact opposite. They are dangerous and frightening. Making them throws money down the drain, and countries that surprise the world by suddenly having the bomb risk losing a lot.

What links the two is that no one has found a way to stop the spread of technology. The iPod stands for "good" technology, so we're happy to see kids in Tehran, for example, walking around with little white plugs in their ears. Nuclear weapons are "bad" technology, and the U.S. is trying hard to keep adults in Tehran from getting any. But "bad" technology entices people as much as, if not more than, the "good" kind.

My heart sinks over the prospect of Iran winning this one, but we all know they are ahead already. Talks to get them to stop their nuclear program have broken down over and over. They have enough oil money to finance any bomb-making project they want in secret. The so-called "Islamic bomb" is hugely popular throughout the Arab world, and illegal trafficking in weapons technology continues, despite U.S. threats and international wheedling.

But there's another reason our grandchildren may have to live with more bombs. Hans Blix, the former U.N. chief arms inspector, has issued a report to the U.N. stating that America has dragged its feet for a decade over disarmament. We are the chief reason that the momentum toward fewer nuclear weapons has slowed down. Since Mr. Blix was right about Iraq having no weapons of mass destruction, I tend to trust him about this one, too.

Yet if you stopped the average American on the street and asked, "Who's causing the biggest threat in spreading nuclear weapons?" few would say it's the U.S. They'd automatically say Iran or North Korea. We tend to blank out what the rest of the world sees all too clearly. The U.S. has a massive nuclear arsenal. We invented the technology first and are the only country who ever dropped an A-bomb. We talk about global disarmament but cherry-pick who should get one and who shouldn't. India, Pakistan, and Israel: thumbs up. Iraq, Iran, and North Korea: thumbs down.

Mr. Blix is right to say that we got ourselves into this horrible mess. Over the past decade the U.S. has tried to seek unilateral arms superiority over the rest of the world. We don't trust nuclear treaties -- or any other for that matter -- as much as we used to. We trust even less the promises of other countries not to make a bomb. The assumption is that they're making one behind our backs while smiling to our faces. that's what Pakistan did, after all.

What can we do? Blix's report gives sixty ways the U.S. could lead the world in disarmament, chiefly at the treaty level. But it's pretty clear we won't do that. Just as the iPod is going around the world, so is nuclear technology. Technology is democratic. It recognizes no borders and appeals to all people equally. No country is powerful enough to stop this, so we have to work around it. To me, that means realistic talks about letting any country have the bomb while at the same time leading the global community in getting rid of everybody's bombs, including ours.

International cooperation rid the world of smallpox. It could do the same with the bomb. But the U.S. has to stop sitting selfishly on its hoard and dictating who gets what. The next time you think we can keep a lid on nuclear weapons, imagine the U.S. trying to keep a kid in Tehran from ever, ever getting his hands on an iPod. Do you really think that's feasible?

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