Nuclear disarmament — the goal that was!


Friendly Fire

Khalid Saleem

EVER wonder why the mention of the ‘security’ of Pakistan’s nukes has gone off the front pages of the media? The exercise of rebuking Pakistan for all the ills of the developed world continues but direct reference to this country’s nuclear status is being avoided, undoubtedly under some hidden agenda. Writing in The Guardian some years back, the then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had talked feelingly about ‘a world free from nuclear danger’. She averred somewhat menacingly, “To those who refuse to meet their international obligations and seek to intimidate their neighbours; the world is more united than ever before and will not accept your intransigence”. The only snag is that, as always, the sole superpower persists in applying this concept selectively and not universally.
Meanwhile, back home we continue to harp on our old hackneyed tunes. We have not given up repeating the mantra of asking the American administration to treat Pakistan at par with India in the matter of nuclear energy. One had thought that this thesis had died with the late lamented Agha Shahi. It appears that it has not. At the same time, it should be fairly obvious that the Americans have no intention of doing any such thing. The US intentions in the region are political and not at all disarmament oriented. So why beat a dead horse; why not instead pursue the goal of nuclear disarmament and/or Nuclear-weapon-Free Zones? Ever wonder why it is no longer fashionable to discuss the subject of disarmament in knowledgeable circles? This state of affairs is hardly surprising, though. After all, in this topsy turvey world of ours – beset as it is with such pestilences as globalisation and one in which such lethal toys as smart bombs, daisy cutters and the like are the latest rage – who would have the time or the inclination to dwell on such mundane matters as disarmament – nuclear or otherwise?
How many would recall that – in the 1960s when what was to be known as the “Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)” was under negotiation – it was the Indian delegation that came up with the (infamous?) compound word “non-proliferation”. Until then, the buzzword among the multilateral circles was “disarmament” that, admittedly, made a great deal of sense. Thanks to the inbuilt ambiguity in the compound word “non-proliferation”, the NPT emerged with enough loopholes to warrant comparison with a leaking bucket. For one thing, the Non Proliferation Treaty apparently ended up relating only to the ‘horizontal’ proliferation of nuclear weapons rather than to their ‘vertical’ proliferation that would have been logical. It is essentially due to this that the NPT has never been seriously regarded as an earnest step towards nuclear disarmament. Come to think of it, the NPT has singularly failed to check even the “horizontal proliferation” that it was designed to control in the first place.
Had the powers that be been interested in nuclear disarmament, the one sane approach that could possibly have set the ball rolling would have been to encourage the creation of Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones. That strategy aims at creating a mesh of N-W-F Zones around the globe with a view to isolate such areas where nuclear weapons continue to exist. As is well known, the United Nations General Assembly had adopted several pro forma resolutions calling for the establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones in several regions of the world. But, like most other decisions of the World Body, the impact of these resolutions on powers that be was only marginal, if that. The world’s much-vaunted multilateral diplomatists, who show remarkable agility and sleight of hand during the debates in the United Nations, regrettably, exhibit little commitment when it comes to the implementation of the resolutions it adopts.
The US-led invasion of Iraq was premised on the assumption that the latter harbored Weapons of Mass Destruction. As things turned out, the one thing that was conspicuously missing in Iraq was the very trace of the said W M Ds. Subsequently, the only positive outcome of the general mayhem that followed was the consensus that Weapons of Mass Destruction deserve to be condemned as a “bad thing” per se. And yet the powers that be showed little or no inclination to cut down their own nuclear arsenals (The US-Russia agreement is neither here nor there). It was the small states that were invited to set an example. What is conveniently forgotten is that disarmament, like charity, must begin at Be that as it may, the fact remains that the path to global nuclear disarmament lies via the creation of Nuclear-Weapon- Free Zones. The Treaty of Tlatelolco, it will be recalled, was recognised as a pioneering effort, even though it failed in casting its shadow beyond the shores of Latin America. Latin America is a long way off and omens hardly look promising nearer home.
Those enamored with nuclear status point to the ‘deterrence value’ of these horrid weapons. In this context, the confrontation between India and Pakistan has oft been cited as an example of “balance of terror”, which, in turn, has been projected as the sine qua non of peaceful co-existence in the region. The very concept of balance of terror appears to be full of holes. The “deterrence value” of tactical nuclear weapons may have made some sense in the standoff between the erstwhile Soviet Union and the Western bloc during the height of the Cold War. In the current context of India-Pakistan relations, though, it may require a serious “re-think”. Possession of nuclear weapons is one thing; freedom of action to use (or even to threaten to use) them in the post nine/eleven scenario is quite another.
The option of Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones as weighed against the mirage of a nuclear deterrent would make a lot of sense. The choice facing the peoples of India and Pakistan is stark; either embrace a new dawn of peaceful co-existence or revert to the odious status quo ante. There is no gray area in between.
— The writer is a former ambassador and former assistant secretary general of OIC.
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