We have every right to wonder as to why must our strategic ally feel the urge to raise an alarm every now and then about the security of our nukes? After all, we are not unique. There are several other states that are overt and/or covert nuclear states. There may be some others that may fit the twilight zone. The breakup of the Soviet Union left several loose ends. Although the powers that be did their damnedest to tie up several of these loose ends; yet one can never be certain about these matters. Why does one not, then, hear about doubts about the security of the nukes of these twilight zone countries? Why us and us alone?
After all nukes are nukes; they are hardly footballs or Oscar statuettes that can be spirited away in the dead of night. Chaps, who have passed through the horrible intricacies of the manufacture of these wretched things, surely must know a thing or two about how to keep the thingumies secure. And yet our own friends – strategic allies to boot – not only refuse to give up their misgivings but also add to the confusion. Or, is there more to this campaign that meets the eye?
The US intelligence had this to say in its annual report released on 05 February 2008: “Political turmoil in Pakistan has not seriously threatened the military’s control of its nuclear weapons but vulnerabilities still exist”. This was not the first or only time that there was talk of vulnerabilities or similar compound words related to our nukes. One would recall that during the last US Presidential election, the candidates had felt no compunction at all in using Pakistan and its nukes as the whipping horse to give verve to their flagging campaigns. With another US Presidential election not all that far away, one fears the subject is bound to pop up sooner or later.
It leaves one wondering if it was for this day that the Pakistani nation had opted to go nuclear. Leader after leader over the past several years before the “bomb” was actually exploded had expressed their determination to go for it. Determination was also expressed that the nation was prepared to eat grass in order to achieve this end. The pity is that it is always the common man who gets the short end of the stick. There is a lot of difference, for instance, between announcing the nation’s readiness to eat grass and to actually go ahead and do it (eat grass, that is!).
The question that presents itself is: why would the Pakistani nation sacrifice its all merely to be the proud possessor of the “bomb”? After all so many countries are doing very well without the privilege. The only reason one can latch on to is the need for the ever-elusive security. It has been argued by the pro-nuke lobby that the “bomb” was an essential step towards giving the nation a much-needed sense of security. Whether or not this is a valid argument is open to question.
In order to add substance to the argument in favour of going nuclear, the concept of ‘strategic balance’ and ‘deterrence’ was advanced with devastating effect. The cry for maintenance of strategic balance in the subcontinent was not only advanced at home but also became the common mantra to be chanted by our diplomats as far a-field as New York, Brussels, Beijing and Tokyo. The fact that no one took us seriously does not appear to have discouraged our policy makers.
The chorus was, in due course, taken up by our very own pseudo-intellectual crowd who used several gallons of ink to further the argument that the explosion and the resulting ‘bomb’ had in fact assured our security against the threat from the east. The argument – such as it was – went something like this: since we possessed the ‘bomb’, our enemy would now not dare to threaten us. The matter was thus conveniently reduced to a simple linear equation without the encumbrance of annoying variables.
Those who had argued in favour of the explosion went wild with delight. Those who had taken the decision ‘to go ahead’ basked in the glory of the moment until the awful truth dawned on them. Nuclear weapons, it soon became clear, were akin to a double-edged sword. Whatever clout they afforded was more than counterbalanced by the weight of responsibility that hung over the shoulders of those responsible for their security. The joy of having ‘joined the nuclear club’ brought with it an atmosphere at the same time of certain awe and intimidation.
One thing that needs must be recognised is that the ‘use’ of a nuclear weapon per se in today’s world can under no circumstances be even contemplated. One may go a step further and aver that the ‘use’ of the nukes was effectively cut off after the US adventures at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was not the “use” but the “threat to use” nuclear weapons that formed the basis of the strategic chess game between the then superpowers during the period of the Cold War. In order to make this argument effective, therefore, the “right of first use” had to be asserted.
It would appear now that the time of reckoning is upon us. Through the signing of the ‘civil nuclear pact’ the United States has ensured that India has thereby been, to all intent and purpose, taken out of the sub-continental strategic equation. Pakistan is now open to be dealt with on a separate plane – more or less like a nuclear pariah state. The ‘security of the nukes’ game that is being played at the expense of Pakistan may well be intended to cancel out whatever strategic advantage this country had ever hoped to squeeze out of its nuclear muscle. Yet, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the USA is reported to have said that our relations with the US are ‘more friendly and better than in the past’. And the Ambassador is an honourable man!
If the gentle reader has emerged from the above narrative with a boggled mind one can only offer one’s sympathy. Nonetheless, it may not be out of place to aver that it may well be high time to subject our strategic doctrines to a new and in depth appraisal. Who knows we may be in for a surprise!
— The writer is a former ambassador and former assistant secretary general of OIC.