Should we celebrate the bomb?
Ten years from the day Pakistan tested six nuclear devices in response to India’s earlier tests in the same month, we continue to waver between two extreme positions: get rid of the bomb; celebrate the bomb. Both positions are untenable and both fail to place the country’s nuclear weapons capability in the proper perspective. Consider.
Those that ask for a rollback argue on the basis of humanistic and peace concerns. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking that position in theory, it becomes problematic when it refuses to wed those concerns to the geopolitical realities on the ground. Salvador de Madriaga, the inter-War Chairman of the League of Nations Disarmament Commission, was spot-on when he commented on the normative passion for disarmament in 1973 thus: “The trouble with disarmament was (it still is) that the problem of war is tackled upside down and at the wrong end…Nations don’t distrust each other because they are armed; they are armed because they distrust each other. And therefore to want disarmament before a minimum of common agreement on fundamentals is as absurd as to want people to go undressed in winter. Let the weather be warm, and people will discard their clothes readily and without committees to tell them how they are to undress.”
Simultaneously, however, the world has been making efforts, feeble though they may be, to try and control the spread of nuclear weapons and related technologies. It is visible to all that those who are in the lead — the first Five nuclear weapons states — have not made any serious effort to respect article VI of the NPT which stipulated that “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control (emphasis added).”
The NPT was perched over three pillars: non-proliferation, disarmament and right to fuel cycle. When in 1995 it was extended indefinitely at the quinquennial RevCon (review conference) and the United States had begun pushing the rolling draft of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), the stage was set for India to test the bomb. It just needed a rightwing government to do that. That also meant Pakistan would test. The reason we mention this is to put the capability in a perspective — as a necessity, not as something that needs to “celebrated” or flaunted. Indeed, May 1998 created a balance of terror in the region whose nuances the two sides are still in the process of learning. Pakistan had to face reverses at Kargil and India had to demobilise after much heat and din of the biggest mobilisation since 1971 to understand that war-fighting is not a feasible option under the nuclear overhang. What does need mentioning is that this deterrence, in combination with other factors, has now created an environment where India and Pakistan can talk peace, as they are doing since January 2004.
But we still get the bomb wrong. Symbolically, in Lahore, the ceremony to celebrate Yaum-e-Takbeer — the day recalling the 1998 testing of the nuclear device — by the female workers of Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN) was marred by “internal wrangling”. The bomb is not to be used for domestic political reasons. For it to be good for us, we need to accept the regional status quo, sign peace and trade treaties and clearly forswear any future cross-border adventures. Nuclear bombs are not for fighting; they provide security by freezing the status quo. The various theories of war-fighting the strategists in the West advanced in the fifties and the sixties have mercifully been laid to rest. What we now have is the realisation that when two sides possess such destruction neither can afford to act irrationally.
Moreover, the bomb itself cannot provide overall security and the broader canvass of security involves economic, political, social and other multifarious types of securities. Countries can still go under if they do not accept the fact that survival is a function of multiple capabilities. Within the region we now have the opportunity, in the absence of a hot war, to advance trade and economic cooperation. Inside the country we are in need of a robust economy, political stability and constitutional guarantees. The moment we understand that, our nuclear weapons will become our guarantors of peace. Indeed, an unstable state, under attack from Al Qaeda, which has its own WMD plans, Pakistan today is at risk from the very device it thought would give it security.