Why nuclear armament does not work

My previous article on the BJP and the nuclear tests of Pokhran has generated a bit of steam. If you propose that nuclear armament is the only option in terms of national security and world peace, I present several counter-arguments:

  • You equate peaceful diplomacy to weakness: Indeed, it is the exact opposite – negotiating a conflict is a sign of strength. Also, if you happen to believe that Nehru had failed in his diplomacy in the Indo-Chinese conflict with his Panch Sheel; it does not necessarily imply that armed conflict would have been a better option.
  • You have implicitly (and naively) assumed that nuclear armament on both sides excludes the possibility of conflict: There is a premise that in a nuclear arms race, if both nations have somewhat comparable nuclear arsenal, then they will not use them: since if one did, the opponent may respond with equal or even greater force. This premise, frequently called ‘Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD)’ is sometimes itself used as an excuse for nuclear armament, thus somehow promoting peace between the nations.  The flaw in using this argument is overwhelmingly apparent – you cannot achieve peace and security by building weapons of mass destruction. All MAD does is to reduce the probability of nuclear conflict. Now, this might seem to be a good thing, but it isn’t. Consider a condom that does not let 90 percent of the spermatozoa through. Will you use it? It still lets the 10 percent through, enough to cause pregnancy – at the same time providing false hopes of security. It is the same situation here – MAD doesn’t exclude the possibility of conflict, it only reduces it. But 10 percent, in this case is a major fraction of the nuclear stockpile. Over a long time, the tiny possibility of nuclear conflict will manifest itself – and that is why I am against it.
  • You think nuclear armament is inevitable and provides security: It isn’t. It doesn’t.
  • You think I am anti-BJP: I am not. I should equally well have criticized the Congress for its 1974 Pokhran-I tests and the blunders in 1984.
  • All the proponents favouring nuclear testing also do not take one thing into account – it is perhaps the most provocative and peace destroying act in world diplomacy. Also, India is among the few countries who have not signed the NPT treaty. Sidetracking off the topic a little bit, Nitwit Nastik in a truly great blog post explained how easy it is for people to be fooled by their governments and to bring them in favour of fighting a war.  The following extract of a conversation between a psychologist and a captured Nazi captures the essence of the article:

    Goering (Nazi): Why, of course, the people don’t want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece?

    Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship.

    Gilbert: There is one difference. In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.

    Goering: Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.

    The last line by Goering is truly insightful, and tangentially relates to the discussions above.

    (Psst!! Nastik, if you are reading this, I hope you don’t mind me ripping off from your blog? I swear I won’t do it again!)

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    BJP and its nuclear flirtations

    It was the year 1998 , and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party was in power with A. B. Vajpayee as the prime minister. Three years ago, Narashima Rao had decided to carry on nuclear tests in a veiled cloud of secrecy. The plans were however halted when American satellites detected preparations at the test site at Pokhran. Now, the leadership of BJP decided to carry on the tests once more. No mistakes were made this time – elaborate arrangements were made to fool intelligence agencies across the world. When the news of 1998 Pokhran tests were finally made public,the news was welcomed with large scale approval across the country.  The printed press was mostly filled with editorials expressing kudos to the BJP.  Television channels praised the bold decision of the leadership.  Many scientists were thankful to the establishment for having provided them the great opportunity to prove their capabilities.

    Abroad, however, the mood could not have been more different.  The UN expressed strong disappointment. China pressurized India to sign the Non-proliferation treaty. But the greatest anger was displayed – for good reason – by Pakistan.  Just fifteen days after India’s last nuclear test, Pakistan too tested five nuclear warheads. Reactions were now desperate – Bill Clinton accused Pakistan for its reactionary measures and quoted, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

    The nuclear tests are now a matter of the past,  forgotten since it is perhaps easier not to remember shameful events in history.  I had a certain hope that the BJP had learned its lesson, but no. After seeing a recent campaign ad, the party seemed all the more ready to re-wake the atomic Kumbhakaran:

    The video clearly shows an atomic test, not to mention several deadly looking missiles.  But what made me really gasp was the banner bearing the words: “We are proud on our nuclear test.” Really, who is this ‘we’ ? Who would be proud of creating weapons that could kill a lakh people in the blink of an eye? I am not against the BJP – I don’t know about you,  but I just don’t want another Hiroshima.

    It seems that authorities have no trouble fooling citizens. All they had to was to go for nuclear armament under the label of technological development or security concerns. One thing is clear, though: when I am of age, I would know whom I should not vote for.