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Atomic rage

The recent Indian and Pakistani Nuclear tests were sober reminders that amid the euphoria surrounding the end of the Cold War, we still live in the shadow of awesome weapons of mass destruction. We have the capacity to destroy the entire human civilization. Indeed, after the Indian and Pakistani respective nuclear tests in May, the scientific community moved the doomsday clock to 11:51, twelve being the ground zero hour. If there is a silver lining in recent nuclear tests by India and Pakistan, it is bringing the issue of nuclear proliferation to the center stage of public debate and discourse once again.

By Manocher Dorraj

The dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki and Hiroshima by the United States in the waning days of the second World War changed the rules of warfare, and with it, international relations changed from one based on balance of power to one based on a "balance of terror." The U.S. acquisition of atomic and later thermonuclear weapons (1945) was followed by the Soviet Union (1949), Great Britain (1952), France (1960), China (1964) and India (1974). Since, Pakistan, Israel and a few other countries have built their own nuclear arsenals and many others are seeking to acquire them.

Why do so many nations aspire to have nuclear weapons despite the immense dangers and financial costs? The short answer is that they remain "prisoners of insecurity" and they see nuclear weapons as the panacea for their perceived insecurity. The central argument for justification of the nuclear arms race is deterrence. The advocates of this theory hold that weakness invites penetration. Only through strength can peace be guaranteed. In other words, only if the opponents of country A know that they would pay a heavy price for attacking it can the global peace be maintained. Thus, only the threat of nuclear terror ushers in stability. While this theory may seem sound, under critical scrutiny several serious flaws can be detected in its logic. First, the more nuclear weapons nation A builds, nation B, caught in an arms race, has to build as many or more weapons to match and target nation A. Seen in this light, the more nuclear weapons nation A builds, the more insecure it gets. Nuclear option also opens up the possibility of an all-or-nothing response as well as the likelihood of an accidental launching.

Deterrence aside, nations also procure nuclear weapons as bargaining chips that would allow them to negotiate from the position of strength. Others see them as signs of prestige, technological sophistication, autonomy and power.

For the formerly colonized nations such as India and Pakistan that became independent only in 1947, it is also a statement that they have come of age. No longer needing any "great" powers' nuclear umbrella of protection, they can now be strategically autonomous and seek peace through strength and negotiate from an advantageous position. Possessing a vast territory and the second largest population in the world, India is particularly keen in being recognized as a great power. In a May 27 address to the parliament, Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee asserted, "The bomb is India's due, the right of one-sixth of mankind." The Indian and Pakistani scientists who helped to build the nuclear bombs were received by the majority of their people as heroes. The same aura of conquest, achievement and pride that surrounded the American nuclear scientists after their development of atomic weapons in 1945 now surrounds the Indian and Pakistani scientists in their respective countries.

The recent tensions between India and Pakistan began to mount on May 13, when India conducted five nuclear tests followed by Pakistan's six nuclear tests two weeks later. The simmering conflict and rivalry between the two countries began after their independence from Great Britain in 1947 and the partition of Pakistan from India a year later. The recent arms race in South Asia not only has roots in a history of conflict in relations between the two countries, it also has immediate global dimensions.

While Russia supports India with missile technology including the ability to launch a missile (sagarika) from a submerged submarine in the sea, China has been assisting the Pakistani missile development program. The U.S. also provided Pakistan's first research reactor and fuel under an "atoms for peace" program of the 1950s; Pakistan, along with Iran and Turkey, constituted "the Northern Tier," the main pillar of the U.S. anti-Soviet alliance in the region. Pakistani nuclear scientists received technical training from the U.S. from the 1950s to the 1970s.

During the Cold War to fight the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the U.S. provided a $3.2 billion military aid package to Pakistan as a pipeline to neighboring Afghanistan. This military assistance also inadvertently helped the development of the Pakistani nuclear program and enabled it to modernize its nuclear missiles. Now both India and Pakistan have the capacity to launch nuclear missiles against each other. India has been trying to build a nuclear-powered ballistic submarine that would allow it both to extend the range of its missiles as well as to evade detection under water. If successful, India would have the upper hand in its arms race with Pakistan. While both Russia and China adhere to the missile technology control regime, an agreement among 29 major nations to restrict the spread of nuclear missiles, this has not prohibited them from helping to escalate the arms race in south Asia. Neither India nor Pakistan are signatories to the non- proliferation treaty. Since both Russia and China are directly involved in Pakistan and India's nuclear development already, an unrestricted nuclear arms race in the Indian subcontinent could eventually draw bigger powers into the conflict.

The major issue of contention and conflict between India and Pakistan is over control of disputed territory of Kashmir that is partitioned between India, Pakistan and China. India and Pakistan have fought three wars since partition of Pakistan from India in 1948. Two of them have been over Kashmir, the exception being the 1971 war in which the Indian government came to the rescue of a nationalist Bangali movement and helped the separation of East Pakistan -- now Bangaladesh -- from the rest of the country. In 1972, shortly after its third crushing defeat by India, Bhutto, by then the Prime Minister of Pakistan, summoned the best nuclear physicists of the country and ordered them to build a bomb. India tested a nuclear weapon in 1974, and Pakistan greatly intensified its efforts to match India. In response to Pakistan's pursuit of nuclear weapons, Jimmy Carter cut off all military and economic aid to Pakistan in April of 1979. Nine month later when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, that decision was reversed. Pakistan is believed to have 7-12 nuclear warheads based on the Chinese design and assisted by Chinese technology and scientists. According to a June 12 statement by Pakistani Foreign Minister Gohar Ayub Khan, without a satisfactory resolution of conflict over Kashmir, there is a strong possibility of a fourth war -- most probably nuclear -- between India and Pakistan.

Kashmir is a Muslim dominated region in the northern tip of India and Pakistan. Indian troops occupy two-thirds of Kashmir and have been fighting against Pakistan-backed insurgents. India insists that the territory it controls is a permanent part of India. But Pakistan argues that as it was stipulated by the United Nations' resolution of 1947 and 1948, the Muslim majority in Kashmir should decide if it wants to join India or Pakistan. India opposes such a vote, knowing that the outcome would not be favorable to the Indian side. Pakistan favors international mediation to resolve the conflict in Kashmir. Sure of its military superiority, India prefers a regional solution primarily worked out between the conflicting parties. For this reason, Pakistan is pleased with the fact that the recent nuclear tests have focused international attention on Kashmir, hoping it would facilitate international pressure for a referendum that would wrest the disputed territory of Kashmir from Indian control. In its military campaign in Kashmir, Pakistan has employed the services of Afghan Mujaheedin, the Muslim group which ultimately drove the Soviets out of Afghanistan. India has accused Pakistan of arming and supporting Muslim separatists on its side of the border who have been waging a war against India since 1989.

Some have compared the passionate and intractable attitude of Indians and Pakistanis toward Kashmir to that of Israeli and Palestinian intractable attitudes toward Jerusalem. Pakistan perceives nuclear option as the only viable deterrent against the stronger, better equipped Indian army. Since 1988, the war in Kashmir has resulted in more than 300,000 casualties. With the victory of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party in the Indian election last year, the tensions sharpened on both sides and the military campaign in Kashmir intensified. Madan Lal Khurma, the hard line Indian Tourism Minister, went as far as suggesting that India was ready for a fourth war over Kashmir if necessary.

In a country dominated by Hindus, Jammu and Kashmir are two of India's predominantly Muslim provinces. The New Delhi government has used a combination of carrot and stick to tame the region, so far with little success. The political and cultural tide in Kashmir seems to be turning in favor of Islamists. Losing any more of Kashmir is unbearable for India, since it would call into question the unity of a large and highly diverse nation often driven by separatist claims.

India aside, Pakistan's relations with Iran have deteriorated in recent years, and the relations with Afghanistan and China have turned cool. Hence, Pakistan has been abandoned by the U.S. since the end of the Cold War. These political developments have exacerbated the intense sense of insecurity that runs through the psyche of Pakistani leaders. This might partially explain why they felt compelled to respond rapidly to India's nuclear tests.

Facing global sanctions, condemnation, and pressure in the aftermath of their nuclear tests, both countries have made some conciliatory overtures toward one another. They have proposed a moratorium on future nuclear tests and have entertained the possibility of future peace negotiations. But disarmament as of yet is not an agenda item in either country's proposal. Neither side has signed the non-proliferation or the test ban treaty. To the contrary, both sides have pledged to continue developing missiles capable of reaching each other's major cities. While it is unlikely that either India or Pakistan, aware of each other's second strike capability, is going to use nuclear weapons, the simmering conflict in Kashmir remains a potentially dangerous trigger issue.

The testing of nuclear weapons by India and Pakistan evoked economic sanctions and withholding of loans and investments from major global powers as well as condemnation by the United Nations. India and Pakistan were denied membership in the nuclear club to discourage other nations from following suit. While the Western media projected the testing as an ominous sign that now an old ethnic and national conflict could lead to all-out nuclear confrontation, the reactions in the Third World were decidedly different.

To defuse the recent crisis evoked by its nuclear tests, India has announced a moratorium on future testing and called on all nations to "limit their nuclear arsenal." India wants all nuclear powers to agree to equal terms for capping and eventually eliminating their nuclear arsenals. India had made this offer once before, but the five major nuclear powers including the United States rejected the proposal. This is why both Indian and Pakistani leaders have complained that major powers use nuclear treaties to legitimize their own possession of huge nuclear arsenals and to deny them to others. Without a major commitment on the part of major global powers (U.S., Russia, Great Britain, France and China) to reduce their own large nuclear arsenals, they cannot take the high moral ground to preach disarmament to weaker nations, especially when some of them are involved in the development of nuclear programs in these countries. It is not lost on many Third World countries, including India and Pakistan, that the United States and the European Community did not seem to mind French nuclear tests last year. Hence, many question why the Israeli government's' possession of an estimated 200 nuclear weapons goes unpunished whereas U.S. and her allies actively intervene to prevent its Arab neighbors from acquiring nuclear capability. Such discrepancies in major powers' policies seriously erode their moral legitimacy, and, consequently, their calls for non-proliferation ring hollow for many people in the developing nations. Instead, providing incentives, promoting regional peace treaties and peaceful resolution of conflict and playing the role of an impartial broker among conflicting parties would be a more constructive course of action.

Brazil, Argentina and South Africa, which secretly developed nuclear capability in the 1970s and '80s, have pledged to cancel their nuclear weapon programs and use their capabilities for non-military purposes. They have also promised to open up their nuclear installations to international inspection. Ukraine decided to dismantle the nuclear stock pile that it inherited from the former Soviet Union in return for an attractive aid package from the United States. North Korea reportedly abandoned its nuclear program for a similar aid package. Belarus and Kazakhstan have transferred to Russia all of the nuclear weapons that remained on their territory following the demise of the Soviet Union. The best guarantee for security in the nuclear age is the dismantling of all nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, as long as the nations who possess the largest stock piles do not seriously commit themselves to this principle, nuclear proliferation will proceed unabated and we will have to live in the shadow of the bomb. The recent events in India and Pakistan are only another page turned in this sad saga.

The 1998 TCU Student House of Representatives Professor of the Year, Dr. Manochehr Dorraj has taught political science at TCU since 1990. His latest book is a forthcoming co-edited volume, Middle East at the Crossroads: The Changing Political Dynamics and Foreign Policy Challenges.