Ten years ago, on the occasion of the birth celebrations of India’s own prophet of peace – Gautama Buddha – the Indian State exploded nuclear warheads under the sands of Rajasthan. Pakistan responded to it in a predictably unfortunate manner by exploding a set of nuclear warheads of its own. We complete a decade of living under the nuclear shadow in the sub-continent of South Asia and it’s a good time as any to remind ourselves of what this means.
Before we get into an analysis of these ten years and their consequences, it would be good to remind ourselves what exactly are nuclear weapons and what they do. Often called the ultimate weapon of a war, nuclear weapons kill and maim on a massive scale. A simulation done by some scientists and ex-military servicemen indicated that a “limited” nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan would lead to the instantaneous death of about 12 million people in both countries and about three times the number would be seriously injured and diseased. That gives us a figure of close to 50 million people dead or irretrievably injured in both countries. To put this into perspective, we need to remember that “only” about a million people were killed during Partition in both countries and the total number who had to migrate ranged between 12 and 15 million. It is clear that even the most “limited” nuclear weapon war between India and Pakistan would likely lead to the end of history for both our countries.
But the consequences of nuclear war are not merely on those who are directly impacted. It will poison the soil of much of Pakistan’s agrarian belt along the Indus river and crops grown there for centuries will contain radioactive elements, and similar would be the impact on the agricultural lands in India. Water, both in the rivers and lakes and inside the ground, would be poisoned and made undrinkable or unusable in agriculture or industry. Winds will carry the radioactive dust on the permanent snows of the Himalayas poisoning our long term water supplies and impacting non-combatant countries like Nepal, Bangladesh, China, Afghanistan and Burma.
If the immediate impact of nuclear weapons is massive, their long term consequences are even worse. The soil and water are contaminated, almost irretrievably, and genetic deformities and malignancies are passed on over generations. Even today in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the fourth and fifth generation children who are being born often express genetic mutations and tumours which are caused by their great-grandparents exposure to radiation. Billions of dollars have been spent on sanitising the ground in Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the US and Japanese governments in an attempt to make these cities habitable again, yet these problems arise. Neither India nor Pakistan would have a fraction of these resources to spend on cleaning and curing the physical and human remains of their nuclear battle. Given the utter poverty in which our people live, it would imply that the disease load and ecological cost of this nuclear exchange would be that much greater and longer lasting.
It is not merely the massive scale of death and destruction which makes nuclear weapons a moral hazard of the first order and a weapon which can have no justification whatsoever. Even from a military point of view, it is unusable. The only context in which this weapon can be used if one of gross military asymmetry. If one country is unequivocally stronger than the other in military terms, it could make some military sense to use nuclear weapons as the danger of a counter attack would be minimal. Therefore, the US could use this weapon on a militarily defeated and physically exhausted Japan in 1945. The certain destruction consequent to a nuclear retaliation by the adversary makes nuclear weapons impractical between two nuclear armed States. Moreover, even in most cases where the combatants may be asymmetrically matched in military and nuclear armed strengths, the use of nuclear weapons by the stronger country would render their victory that much more difficult given the present context of international relations and laws. It is for this reason even the rogue state of the United States has not been able to use nuclear weapons in the post-Soviet world against weak adversaries like Sudan, Iraq or Serbia. The use of nuclear weapons would have destroyed the American enemy but would have made the US lose the war’s strategic aims.
Lastly, the economic and social consequences of nuclear weapons on States which possess them is very negative. Apart from the fact that billions of dollar are diverted to building and sustaining nuclear arsenals, it also fosters a jingoistic national arrogance among the citizens of the State which possesses nuclear weapons which in turn provides strength to right wing politics and violence in society. Globally, just the USA has spent $ 5,500 billion in developing their nuclear arsenal whereas the maximum estimate for a global budget elimination of starvation, universal provision of health care, provision of shelter to all and clean water to all, universal global literarcy, clearing of all landmines and total debt relief to all developing countries would cost $ 2,500 billion over ten years. In simple words, less than half the money spent on the nuclear arsenal of one country, albeit the largest, is enough to solve all the pressing livelihood problems of the world today.
In the context of this unambiguous immorality and impracticality of nuclear weapons, it is quite an “achievement” that the States of India and Pakistan are today partners with the USA and Israel in destroying the global movement towards elimination of nuclear weapons. It is these four countries which bear clear responsibility for the re-nuclearisation of the world and we as citizens of India and Pakistan need to do more to accept our responsibility and resist this demon.
Unfortunately, the past decade has been one where the opponents of nuclear weapons have failed at every step. The official establishments in both countries should look back smugly over their ‘acomplishments’ over this decade, and these have been many. Both countries have managed to end the political and economic sanctions which were imposed on them by the international community and are today preferred allies of US imperialism. Pakistan used the strategic requirements of the USA in the post-9/11 world while India has leveraged its growing economic clout. Both countries have managed to build up a “respectable” arsenal of nuclear weapons and acquired competence in handling and working nuclear armies.
But, in India, the greatest achievement of the nuclear lobby has been the cooption of the anti-nuclear voices. Who would remember today that Dr. Manmohan Singh had opposed the nuclear weaponisation of India in 1998 May. Today he stands as a champion of the Indo-US nuclear deal which would provide the India’s nuclear arsenal with large supplies of uranium as well as remove the technology barriers for its nuclear industry. Even among those who oppose the nuclear deal, the focus has changed from an outright rejection of nuclear weapons to a ‘realist’ position of rejecting nuclear agreements with the USA but promoting nuclear cooperation with Russia, France and other countries. In fact, recently when India tested its nuclear capable Agni III missile, there was not one word of protest from any quarter in India. The situation in Pakistan seems similarly dismal. India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea are the four rogue nuclear States which do not even have a minimal anti-nuclear domestic voice to temper the phallic hallucinations of our warmongers.
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This article was published in my weekly column in The Post on 21 May, 2008.