By Zubeida Mustafa
SIXTY years ago on August 6, 1945, President Harry Truman issued a statement in Washington saying, “Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima, Japan and destroyed its usefulness to the enemy. That bomb had more power than 20,000 tons of TNT. It had more than two thousand times the blast power of the British “Grand Slam”, which is the largest bomb ever yet used in the history of warfare.”
This event, which was underplayed at the time in terms of the human devastation it caused, changed the world for ever. This is what the crew of Enola Gay, the plane which dropped the atomic bomb nicknamed Little Boy, had been given to understand.
The world did change but in a terrifying way. Hiroshima marked the ushering in of the atomic age. Historians dispute the American contention that the use of the atom bomb, that killed 150,000 instantly or within a few days, led to the quick Japanese surrender and saved thousands of American lives. The Japanese emperor was preparing to end the war even without the use of the atom bomb. Be that as it may, this is not disputed that the use of nuclear weapons for the first time transformed radically the pattern of war and international relations.
The awareness of the potentially horrendous effects of nuclear power when it is used in war produced two results. First, the government which possessed it wanted to be the only one to possess it to gain an advantage over its rivals. Secondly, when an adversary managed to acquire the nuclear weapon, an arms race was the inevitable result. What we see today, 60 years after Hiroshima, is an offshoot of these phenomena.
When the United States lost its monopoly over “the bomb” after the then USSR had produced one too, the race began and more powerful and sophisticated weapons came to be stocked in the arsenals of the big powers. Today, it is estimated that 20,000 nuclear warheads are strategically deployed by the five recognized nuclear powers (the US, Russia, the former USSR, Britain, France and later China).
Thus in the cold war period, if there was a single factor, which determined the course of international relations, it was the fear of the nuclear bomb. This fear continues to exist even though the USSR disintegrated in 1991 and the cold war ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Ironically the Soviet Union became the victim of the economic consequences of the nuclear arms race.
The five nuclear powers created their exclusive club under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which came into force in 1970. Although the treaty banned the spread of nuclear technology for military purposes to the non-nuclear states, it allowed them the “inalienable right” to develop, research, produce and use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Procedures were set out by which the International Atomic Energy Agency would verify and monitor the nuclear programmes of the non-nuclear states.
The NPT was designed to pre-empt the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The treaty has failed to do so. In the last decade alone three nuclear weapon states — India, Pakistan and North Korea — have emerged and one more, namely Iran, has become the centre of controversy. By the Six-Day war in 1967 Israel was also known to have manufactured nuclear arms without this being officially announced under its policy of strategic ambiguity. Hence it was not officially taken note of by the Big Nuclear-5. Neither has the NPT succeeded in getting the nuclear powers to dismantle their nuclear weapons gradually as they were required to do under the treaty.
This approach of the policy-makers is intriguing, especially when the story of Hiroshima is so well known. Numerous hibakushas (survivors of the atomic attack in August 1945) who became peace activists have taken upon themselves the mission of visiting various countries to create awareness about the horrors of the nuclear bomb. Earlier this year, one such delegation visited Pakistan to mark the 60th anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima.
It is strange that the hibakushas’ message of shunning nuclear weapons has reached the common man but not the policy makers.
The nuclearization of South Asia is the most momentous development to have occurred in the nineties. As a commentator observed in the issue of Time magazine remembering Hiroshima, “The weapons that incinerated those two unfortunate cities represented a technological innovation with fearsome consequences for the future of humanity.
“But the US had already crossed a terrifying moral threshold when it accepted the targeting of civilians as a legitimate instrument of warfare.”
The problem is that now there are others crossing the moral threshold. In the case of Pakistan and India it is a double crossing. Are countries, which have a third of their population living below the poverty line, morally justified in spending their scarce resources on nuclear arms? The argument advanced by Islamabad that if it had not developed nuclear weapons it would have been subdued by a nuclear India does not hold true.
Neither has the mutually assured destruction (MAD) doctrine which is claimed to have prevented a war between the two South Asian neighbours any validity. In spite of their nuclear weapons, the two countries nearly came to blows in Kargil in 1999 and their forces confronted each other in eyeball-to-eyeball positions in 2002-03. It was not the awareness of the lethality of their weapons of mass destruction that stopped India and Pakistan from launching a fullfledged war. Pakistan even said that if need be, it would not hesitate to use its nuclear arms. Other international actors were at work which kept the peace in South Asia.
Conversely, Pakistan’s nuclear weapons will militate against its strategic interests in the present circumstances. In the war on terror that the United States is waging and in which Pakistan is its ‘useful’ ally, the issue of Islamabad’s nuclear weapons has been soft-pedalled. But the apprehension has been frequently voiced that the country’s nuclear arms could fall into the hands of the terrorists — either by a well-planned attack or after a government take-over by radicals.
The expression of such fears only compounds Pakistan’s dilemma. We do not know how the Bush administration views Pakistan’s nuclear programme today. There are reports (not officially confirmed) of Pakistan’s nuclear facilities being coded by the Americans to prevent their unauthorized use. There are also reports of the United States using Israel to strike Pakistan’s nuclear plants to disable them.
Writing in the Washington Post of May 15, 2005, William Arkin, a former army intelligence analyst with close contacts within the military, wrote about a top secret “Interim Global Strike Alert Order” approved by US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in 2004. It directed the armed forces to be ready to attack countries in different parts of the world, specifically naming North Korea and Iran.
Arkin added, “In the secret world of military planning, global strike has become the term of art to describe a specific pre-emptive attack. When military officials refer to global strike, they stress its conventional elements. Surprisingly, however, global strike also includes a nuclear option.”
In addition there is the additional factor of the US having promised nuclear aid to India in its July agreement with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. It appears that Pakistan’s nuclear programme is suspect in Washington’s eyes and Washington has been throwing broad hints about its concern. Does that leave us safe?