Nuclear Testing: Building Insecurity

During the dreadful time when people were dancing in the streets because their nations have nuclear bombs and politicians seemed to believe they could earn respect by threatening mass destruction, I found some comfort on the Internet. From around the world, and especially from India and Pakistan, I am reminded that plenty of people understand one simple fact: you cannot gain security by making your enemy feel insecure.

Jaswant Krishnayya emailed from the Systems Research Group in Pune: “Every major city in India has had meetings of scientists and social scientists during the last 10 days to protest the bomb tests, both before and after the Pak bomb.”

Email also brought an address by Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, a Pakistani physics professor, given at MIT the day after the first Indian bombs went off. Hoodbhoy spoke for a large gathering of Indian and Pakistani scientists:

“Together we stand joined in sorrow, disbelief, shock, and anger. ... We stand here to challenge the merchants of hate and destruction, the makers and promoters of weapons that kill by the millions, and the megalomaniacs who think that greatness comes from the power to commit mass murder.”

Aromar Revi, a development consultant in New Delhi, reminded me that the BJP, the party newly and narrowly in power in India, ran explicitly on the promise of wielding India's nuclear might.

Revi says: “The bomb is very adolescent male in its response to Pakistan, but it's actually a masterful geopolitical initiative to deal with the Kashmir problem, get India a place on the UN Security Council, reconstruct the Indian identity, and take the wind out of the other political parties.”

Revi worries about the BJP logic: “We now have external enemies (Pakistan and China and the West via sanctions) and internal enemies (Muslims and ethnic minorities). Nothing better in such a situation of adversity than to move to a fascist mode of governance.”

Ashok Gadgil, an Indian working on soft energy alternatives at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, commented, “To many a poor country, getting nuclear weapons provides cheaper political thrills and internal popularity than the arduous task of addressing social justice and poverty.”

Gadgil adds, “Unless we are serious about denuclearization of military forces by all countries, talk of nuclear nonproliferation is just not very persuasive.”

India's and Pakistan's bombs could open the door to a terrifying future, as other nations, many with bombs already on the shelf, scramble to join the nuclear club. Or these Asian explosions could just provide the shock we need to solve this enormous problem at last.

Only one nation can solve it – the one that invented the bomb and that continues to be the chief promoter of the idea that its possession admits one to some special category of nationhood.

For 50 years, we have led in the direction of “greater and greater insecurity at higher and higher costs.” Other nations cannot retreat from that direction until we do. We can ask them to face the world without nuclear arms, to stop generating bomb materials under civilian or military auspices, to turn their resources toward meeting their populations' basic needs, to build national pride on accomplishments that are actually worthy of admiration only when we have the honesty and wisdom and courage to do so ourselves.

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