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Indian and Pakistani Nuclear Programs

-- By Dr Ramesh N. Rao

[Editor's intro:" Ramesh N. Rao is an associate professor of Communication at Truman State University, Missouri and serves on the Consultative Committee on Indic Traditions and Conflict Management at Columbia University. He has worked as a copy editor at The Hindu and received a PhD from Michigan State University". CJS wallia]

In an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatchon July 3rd, 1998, two American commentators, Michael Boldrick and Arthur Lord, conclude that Indian and Pakistani nuclear programs "... are in their infancy and like children(italics mine) whose fascination with fire exceeds their perception of the consequences, India and Pakistan should not be allowed to play with matches."

Ignoring even the language of colonialism and racism in the article (after all, calling another group or civilization "children" or "childish" has been the first and most effective resort of proselytizers, colonizers and others of such ilk in carrying out their agenda of occupation, containment, corruption or obliteration), I wonder what was the Post-Dispatch's reason for publishing this particular article.

One need not rehash the old and new arguments and analyses of colonialism and imperialism in this context any more than to just say, "Here we go again!" Newspapers and magazines in the US, as well as "experts" both in academe and the State Department are fed on the "mother's milk" of ignorance and the insatiable need for policing and pontificating. If the conclusion reached by these two "experts" (a retired mid-level Air Force officer and a television producer) is that India and Pakistan "should not be allowed to play with matches, " one should and is indeed forced to ask the question: "So, who are they to decide?" and "Pray, how does one stop sovereign countries who have the technology to conduct nuclear tests from carrying out their tests?"

There is nothing in such articles that enlighten readers on the issue of nuclear proliferation and nuclear disarmament. They ignore the fundamentals: that the US and Russia each have about 10, 000 nuclear warheads; that France, Britain and China a few hundreds each; and that Israel has stashed away some of its own. Nor do they mention the biggest setback in recent times -- the continuation of the NPT regime which basically puts off indefinitely nuclear disarmament.

Writers and pundits from the camp that Boldrick and Lord emerge from suggest nothing specific in that regard. Nor do they have any expertise in the matters of "control" of sovereign states. Do they provide readers a set of options that the United States has to make sure that countries like India and Pakistan do not do anything hasty or rash in their bid to weaponize their nuclear capabilities? No. Are they in agreement or support of the US sanctions on the two countries? We don't know. Are they advocating "stronger measures" to bully these two countries to give up their nuclear program? I believe they do, though they don't say so explicitly. I am basing my conclusion on their exhortation that "...India and Pakistan should not (italics mine) be allowed to play with matches." What could those "stronger measures" be?

The US does not have much leverage over Pakistan as Pakistan was the ardent supporter and henchman of the US in the South Asia region during the Cold War. Remember (unfortunately many Americans don't) Gary Power's U-2 plane that went spying over Russia, was shot down and we found out that the flight took off from Peshawar in Pakistan? 1961 folks! That is how far and even further back Pakistan's ties to the United States goes. Pakistan was also the conduit for US arms and ammunition into Afghanistan in the 1980s when the US helped the "brave" mujahiddeens convert Afghanistan from a ruble economy into a rubble state. Pakistan believes that the US therefore owes it a number of favors. So, clearly there are no "strong measures" that the US would even contemplate taking on the Pakistanis. If the US did contemplate pressuring Pakistan the Pakistanis could very well pass on their stuff to Iran, Iraq, Libya, or any other Muslim nation chomping at its bit to possess an "Islamic bomb" to threaten the "great Satan."

Now, can the US do anything to pressure or threaten India? Some Americans, including the shrill Madame Secretary of State, have used undiplomatic language to try and cow India (no pun intended) on these matters. In 1971, in the middle of the third war between India and Pakistan, Nixon and Kissinger ordered the US Seventh Fleet to steam into the Bay of Bengal to threaten India. This act of US sabre-rattling is well remembered by Indians and everyone knows how ineffective it was at that point in time. India simply ignored the US naval presence and also quickly dispatched the Pakistani army from the then East Pakistan. So, there is very little of a bullying nature that the US can do to influence India.

The US has the most powerful military in the world. But India is no Panama or Granada. It is the world's largest democracy, despite hackneyed and false claims by many Americans that the US is the world's largest democracy. Like my students conflating democracy with capitalism, American journalists and politicians conflate size of economy to size of democracy! Democracy means rule of the people and not rule of the exchequer! In fact, India is democratic enough to permit communist governments in some states. The state of West Bengal has had a communist government continuously for the past 21 years! It also has the second largest standing army in the world. It has a rich and diverse culture, the fifth largest world economy (after the US, China, Japan and Germany) and a huge scientific and industrial infrastructure. Thus, there are really no options for cowing down India. Other than the sanctions (which, even Washington acknowledges, are poor and ineffective deterrents in this case) already imposed, what can the US do? Boldrick and Lord, like many other po-dunk pundits in this country, merely resort to flag-waving and jingoistic and boring tirades instead of providing intelligent options or guidance in this matter. They say that the US spent more than $5 trillion developing a reliable nuclear program. How much did the Russians spend? How much have the Chinese spent? Clearly, their programs were not that expensive.

I was asked by a colleague how the Chinese did not feel threatened by the US as the US had more than 10, 000 nuclear warheads, while the Chinese, according to various estimates, have anywhere between 400 and 600 (the same as Britain). The Chinese know that you don't need to explode more than 10 or 15 strategically targeted nuclear bombs to really mess up the world. It is the US, in its classic adolescent, insecure and bullyish nature (to return Boldrick and Lord's favor in the use of metaphors) to think that more is always better.

I am reminded of an article in Esquire magazine two years ago on the recent surge of penile surgery sought by American men. The writer tells of a man who keeps going to his Hollywood plastic surgeon to keep on increasing the size and girth of his organ. "But what can he do with such a massive piece of appendage?" the writer wonders and the doctors tell him that really all that the man wanted was "bragging rights." It didn't matter that it cost him a lot of money and that he could not use it for any amatory purposes. As long as he was able to say, "I have the biggest, " he was happy. Who, except an insecure and immature person, would say that? Which, except an insecure and immature nation, would stockpile more than 10, 000 nuclear warheads?

Now, instead of pointing that out, writers like Boldrick and Lord resort to jingoistic flag-waving. "We spent all that money and we did all that testing. And so, we have the right to possess all these horrible weapons and damn it, we know how best to mind our arsenal. Dare not anyone else try doing what we have done". This about is the gist of the article. So, what if some other countries have been building nuclear bombs lately and testing and exploding them? Like the Chinese for example, or those trigger-happy French who kept blowing up islands in the Pacific until recently?

The US response is, "Well, we will join with them to stop others from doing it. We will impose sanctions, we will call Pakistan and India names, we will threaten them and we will, as usual, usurp every high ground (moral, military, et al) and proclaim from those heights how others should behave."Now, don't readers in this country deserve to read better and know and understand better? So, in that light, I have a few suggestions and I will try and make them as "practical" as possible.

Strange as it may sound, I think it is good that Pakistan and India have shown the world what they have in terms of nuclear capability. It is better to bring these programs out into the open and so have the chance for open and effective communication on command and control structures, inspections, etc., than to have countries experimenting in secret. The two countries now have the chance to sit together and discuss the practical aspects of the "problem" they now have on their hands. After all, nuclear weapons are dangerous in anyone's hands, despite claims to the contrary by your so-called "experts." India and Pakistan will need help in this area.

I think it would be wise for Russia and the US to provide the necessary technical know how for establishing effective hotlines and to making their missiles reliable. Second, Russia and the US could help in creating a climate where Pakistan and India could talk seriously and usefully about some of the underlying problems of the region (Kashmir, etc.). This means that, without third party interference, Pakistan and India could be "encouraged" to find solutions to these rather old problems. Third, the US can encourage and assist these countries in building healthy economies.

The US has been the world's largest arms exporter. It is time we seriously consider what we are doing to the rest of the world and ourselves. Would we not be spending our money more wisely if we provided help and assistance in building basic infrastructure (roads, water supply, sanitation) in these countries than by supplying them with F-16 airplanes? US citizens would be faced with a dilemma. Should they be concerned more about keeping local military industry afloat or should they be concerned more about peace and prosperity in the world? Sorry folks, you can't have it both ways!

Many in the West have argued that mutual deterrence, as worked out by the US and the Soviet Union will not work in South Asia because of religious rivalry. Bunk and nonsense. The whitewashing of fifty years of Soviet-American hostility, the ignorance exhibited about the Chinese nuclear program, etc., would lead anyone knowledgeable and who has no ideological and other axes to grind laugh out loud at the claims that these so-called experts are making. For example, the C3I (command, control, communications and intelligence) systems available to the US, the Soviet Union and China from the 1940s through the 1960s were even more primitive than what the Indians and Pakistanis have now. To ignore that as Michael Boldrick and Arthur Lord do shows how little they are interested in resolving problems and how poorly informed they are about the issues. So, let us acknowledge that nuclear arms are dangerous in anyone's hands. Let us realize that the possession of nuclear weapons alters the strategic equations in South Asia profoundly.

Let us recognize that no war can now be fought between China, India and Pakistan without dangerous and even disastrous consequences. With this knowledge let us grow wise and statesmanlike and work on creating and building new, healthy relationships in that region. And like mature nations and mature people let us acknowledge that eliminating all nuclear weapons, which India has proposed since the 1950s, will make the world safer for all of us.

 
     
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