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The shape of events to come

18 Mar 2002


By M.B. Naqvi

The people of the Subcontinent ought to be thankful to Los Angeles Times that has unearthed a secret Pentagon report that is now with the US Congress for action. It discloses a horrifying series of contingency plans of the US attacking with nuclear weapons China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Syria. Such a contingency is supposed to arise in one of three conditions: first, in retaliation for attack with nuclear, biological or chemical weapons”. The second set of circumstances in which the US would use its nuclear weapons would be against targets able to withstand non-nuclear attack”. The third category is in the event of surprising military developments”, the significance of which is likely to stump many.

Mr. George W. Bush certainly seems to be creating a New World Order --- or may be a Great Disorder. The report also indicates that the use of small-sized nuclear weapons is being considered. It is not difficult to read between the lines to the effect that this Bush thinking is likely to breach the old policy of disfavouring the actual use of nuclear weapons and regarding them merely as deterrents. There seems to be emerging a greater willingness to actually use these weapons and, if so, the US military is bound to clamour for more weapons and warheads of the miniaturised nuclear weapons and warheads in larger quantities, may be also making them somehow smarter.

In a general sort of way, a fresh nuclear arms race should ensue which will cover virtually the entire globe through myriad linkages of inter-state suspicions and rivalries. For instance, if China is the possible target, it is sure to note the intent and the capability that the US already has, and which is likely to be augmented by more production. The Chinese will go, insofar as can be seen, flat out for a nuclear build up. Once this Chinese reaction is known, the US will have to redouble its effort and would later, in its turn, force China to speed up the arms race further.

Just consider what would happen. A Chinese nuclear build up would pose a painful dilemma for Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and, more to the point, India. Should India start on an arms race with China, what would Pakistan, on present assumptions, do? Whether or not Pakistan economy can stand up to these strains, the national security considerations will force Islamabad rulers to start their own proliferation. India would be forced to speed up. The repeated public pronouncements that Pakistan will not engage in a nuclear arms race with India and that its nuclear weapons are only a deterrent beg the question. For, the deterrent to be deterrent, in military speak, it has to be kept updated.

But, what about the rest of Asia? The biggest questionmark would be on Japans reaction to the Chinese build up and in response to the general trend of action by other Asian states. Japan is sure to be affected by all the major states adding to their nuclear stockpiles. Would Japans pacifism survive? Already there are disturbing trends with the nationalistic wave beginning to lap its politics, with the rightwing becoming even more assertive. Then, both Russia and China are likely to be greatly alarmed by any signs of Japan beginning to make its national security more informed with self-reliance which will have unpredictable consequences. The US feels directly concerned with a possible China-Taiwan conflict; it certainly envisages using its nuclear weapons against China in such an eventuality. Much the same can be said with even greater certainty about a possible Sino-Indian war. Whether the American nuclear bombs would rain on China or any of Chinese allies (Pakistan) or not, populous India can expect to receive a fair number of Chinese warheads, maybe some of their soldiers also in certain areas. The turbulence that will result in South Asia can be imagined.

One consequence for South Asia is certain: As noted, India-Pakistan arms race in both nuclear and conventional armaments will intensify. Looked at closely, primary consequence will of course be economic: social sectors in both countries will get fewer funds and attention, with multiple effects. Their economies are manifesting stagnation, with lower growth rates. It is a trend thanks to the arms race, among other extraneous factors. Its result is restiveness due to unemployment and poverty. India already has over a dozen insurgencies. All have to be wary of social consequences of arms races. The growth in crime and lawlessness in Pakistan, including the ease with which the Jihadis and sectarian terrorists find recruits and a Jihadi culture has grown up, are all due to mass unemployment and the rapid growth of poverty. These are directly related to arms race which has mightily contributed to economic stagnation and low growth rates among other emergent factors.

The point is that experience so far has shown that from the days in May '98 when both India and Pakistan overtly became nuclear powers, there has been no moment of normal peace and quiet between them, except for the Lahore Process in early 1999. Conclusion to emerge is that mere presence of nuclear mass destruction weapons radically destroys trust in the leadership on either side and the leaders acquire an arrogance of power that says: we can do anything we like and the other can do little because of the deterrence. Nuclear arms race can squarely be blamed for (a) intensification of Jihad in Kashmir, (b) total mistrust of the other's intentions, (c) worsening of economic indicators of lower income groups' conditions, (d) strengthening of Islamic fundamentalism in Pakistan and Hindu chauvinism in India and (e) communal flare ups in India and sectarian violence in Pakistan. Moreover SAARC's future has come under a thicker cloud as the Kathmandu Summit showed last January.

Impact on Middle East has been noted. The effect on the Arab-Israeli conflict is not likely to remain confined to Israel and the socalled Palestinian Authority that is supposed to govern the Israeli occupied areas of West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel's nuclear arsenals are known to be bigger than of either Pakistan or India, if also semi-secret. Israel works in close mesh with the US and shares American thinking. Ariel Sharon's conduct toward Yasser Arafat and PA speaks for itself. Israel's urge for lebensraum that has long been manifest in the shape of its itch to acquire ever more territory in wars and setting up Jewish settlements in purely Arab areas --- as new facts on the ground --- with a view to the eventual control over most of the Arab areas. The point to consider is what impact will the American war plans on Iraq, Syria and Iran have on Israel and PA, if it survives? The US is bound to plump even more for an obviously aggressive Israel, its need to take other Arab states on board or saving the life of Yasser Arafat notwithstanding. And the behaviour of Bush and Sharon during the last one year is there for all to see, though few Arab kings and dictators could have seen it clearly.

It is needless to focus separately on every possible scenario. True, some American publicists are likely to argue that it is only a series of contingency plans. They do not represent a definite or decided programme of action. But that is only a number of puerile words. Why? because other states will not wait for their reactive action for a definite US programme of action or its actual decision of waging the nuclear war in specific situations. The mantra for all national security wallahs is that intentions of a government can change but capability is what we look at. Which means that the mere contingency plans of the US are sure to cause a general reaction unless it is stopped in its tracks right now. The other states are, on the general assumptions of powerpolitics, likely to start acting as if the Americans are going to do it --- in their own backyard if not on doorsteps. The Great Disorder may already have started building up and its evil effects may start manifesting themselves as days go by.

In point of hard fact there is not much that the people of the Subcontinent can do about it. Indeed their governments, all of them put together, are unlikely to be able to stop the process in the rest of Asia --- which is where the action is going to be in the next 20 years. There were saner times earlier when a Jawaharlal Nehru could lead an international nuclear disarmament movement, even though he was not too averse to acquiring a nuclear capability of his own. He certainly could keep South Asia more or less out of the cold war, despite Pakistans alignment with the west in the cold war. It so happens that the Subcontinent was the first area of détente between the two superpowers; they agreed not to make it an arena of their hot or cold war. But such times are no more and there is no second superpower nor even a recognisable single cold war, only a series of confused regional conflict situations.

The people of the Subcontinent rightly feel endangered. They can with some sorry certainty expect nuclear bombs falling in their areas with the given horrible consequences. The internal divisions of South Asia are getting worse. Internal disunities make the states of South Asia unable to speak unitedly, much less to act unitedly. These internal differences in the region make its each state weaker than it otherwise might have been. The need to prevent the area from becoming the arena of a nuclear arms race and cold war is of utmost urgency. What can the non-governmental people do is the question. It is a far cry to prevent a cold war, though that is the need of the hour. As it happens the two governments of India and Pakistan have, by competitively wooing the US, sharply cut down their own stature and indeed effectiveness. It is useless to expect these South Asian governments to cooperate or speak with one voice. But cant the people start a really great popular anti-nuclear movement for the sake of our dear lives and those of our children and grandchildren?

The Alliance for a Secular and Democratic South Asia was formed in 1993 to combat rising religious intolerance in South Asia and to campaign for peace and justice in the region. We are committed to working towards a just, non-violent resolution of the crisis we are currently living through. If you are interested in joining us in this work, please call 617-983-3934 or e-mail

22 Sep 2007

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