The release of Pakistan’s serial nuclear-offender A.Q. Khan, after five years of house arrest, is concrete evidence of the dual narrative that all nuclear nations employ over proliferation. There may be solemn sermons about law and security in public but there is hero worship of scientists who have delivered in the national, and, in the case of Khan international, interest.
The hypocrisy is not limited to new arrivals. The official and oft-declared objective of America since President Dwight Eisenhower, who succeeded Truman [the President who ordered the catastrophic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki], is a world free of nuclear weapons. But Britain and the United States are the original proliferators, although you will be sent to Coventry if you dare mention such subversive truths. They set up Israel’s nuclear weapons programme by supplying technology and reactors. But the three holy cows of the nuclear game, America, Britain and Israel, will never allow even a whisper to arise in the public discourse of either Israel’s nuclear status or the Anglo-American alliance’s culpability. Dr Henry Kissinger has just written a persuasive essay on the vital and immediate need to check the growth of nuclear weapons [distributed across the world and printed in the International Herald Tribune of 7-8 February]. He argues, “Efforts to develop a more nuanced application [of nuclear power] have never succeeded, from the doctrine
of a geographically limited nuclear war of the 1950s and 1960s to the mutual assured destruction theory of general nuclear war of the 1970s”.
Today’s dividing lines of ideology and regional conflict, rogue states and non-state actors, he continues, constitute a very real possibility of a bomb being used by stealth. The possibility of preventing such a catastrophe “will prove increasingly remote unless the emerging nuclear weapons program in Iran and the existing one in North Korea are overcome”.
But everything links back to the cause-and-effect chain. Iran’s programme is a consequence of Israel’s weaponisation; India was compelled by China; China was certain that it could not be recognised as a superpower if it did not create a counteroffensive response to the Soviet Union and America; and the Soviet Union would not have gone nuclear if America had not displayed the might of the bomb at the end of the Second World War. Pakistan may have passed on information to North Korea and Iran, but Pakistan itself received help from China. The chain began at the top and the unravelling, if there is to be any, must also start with the top.
The implicit justification for Israel was its “right to exist”. Well, in case the policy wonks of the West may have missed the point, everyone has a right to exist. It is interesting that Dr Kissinger mentions every nuclear power except one: Israel. It is a convenient sleight of mind. That apart, he is clear-headed about where the process needs to restart. America and Russia control 90% of the world’s weapons, with America having a clear advantage in the numbers game. Dr Kissinger also implicitly admits that Japan, South Korea and Australia are weapons-capable; certainly the first two are responding to North Korea’s arsenal.
There is a silent consensus among strategic-policywallahs in much of the post-colonial world that nuclear weapons are the only guarantee of independence in the age of neo-colonisation. This, as much as Israel,
motivates Iran. Teheran has watched America invade nations to its right and left, and threaten Iran on a regular basis. The pretext is Iran’s nuclear programme, but there is a double paradox operating. The West might argue that the nuclear programme makes Iran vulnerable; Teheran believes that it is safe only because it is in the process of becoming a nuclear power. There is no certainty about the radioactive fallout from the destruction of its plants in Natanz or Bushehr. This fallout might not be so kind as to restrict itself to Iranian airspace. Dubai, the Gulf, Saudi Arabia and Iraq would be in immediate reach. Contaminated oil, anyone?
Is the alternative a gradual escalation in the number of nuclear-weapons states, all the new entrants beginning their enterprise for, naturally, only the peaceful purposes of nuclear energy?
Not necessarily, although if the present duplicity continues that is precisely what will happen. The first requirement is to expand the club of decision-makers on this subject to a realistic 15 or so. This would include the five recognised nuclear powers, the four unrecognised ones, and those waiting at the door with a polite smile on their face. The dismantling of weapons, if that is considered a priority, cannot be symmetrical. The smaller powers will not surrender their deterrent to suit someone’s clever numbers game. But the key to de-escalation is some form of security guarantees in which the threat of invasion by a superpower is removed from the range of options available to it. Will this be acceptable to those who have the capability of invasion? One thinks not. Some very good arguments can be made for intervention, including provocation by irresponsible states. But unless nations feel that their national integrity can be
safe by means other than nuclear weapons, the stockpile of weapons will continue to grow. If this argument works for Israel then it works for Palestine as well. Gaza and the West Bank may not have their own weapons, but there can always be a surrogate arsenal.
Sometimes, the most important problems need the artificial impetus of a deadline to move. There is one such visible. America is preparing for a review conference on the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty in the spring of 2010.
Both the treaty and the world have changed beyond recognition since it was first envisaged. The Big Five will have to take a deep breath and ask one question before they pepper the rest of the world with their queries. Why are they the Big Five of the international jungle? Was there some divine dispensation that made China a member of this Five, smug with nuclear weapons and a veto in the Security Council, and kept India outside? The Big Five were fortuitous in being official allies, although one could argue that the Indian Army, which fought in Africa, played as significant a part in the Allied victory as the armies of China and
France. Moreover, India was a colony, and had no independent right of choice between the Allies and the Axis. Be that as it may, what is relevant is the contemporary world and not that of Hitler and Mussolini. To lock the world up in the power equations of 1945 is not the best route to the solutions needed for 2009 and 2010.
Those who have institutionalised their power always find an excuse to postpone its surrender, if they can no longer justify its continuity.
The rationale heard most often for the veto-nuclear-United Nations regime is that it has preserved world order for six decades. This is true only to the point that we have not blown the earth to smithereens, for the world has seen more conflict after the Second World War than before it. The point should not be lost on the Big Boys that a noose has emerged: these “minor” conflicts have become the source of major danger because nuclear weapons could well slip out of the tight monopoly of Governments.
The simple fact that A.Q. Khan was never punished is a message that will be heard by those who seek to emulate him.