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On Both Sides, South Asia Nuclear Weapons Are in Mature Hands

Nonproliferation: The current crisis is the failure of the West's policymakers, not the leadership of India and Pakistan.

June 08, 1998|RAJAMANI RAMAMURTHY | Rajamani Ramamurthy is a retired air marshal and served for 36 years in India's air force

If nothing else, the nuclear tests in India and Pakistan have brought out the gross inadequacies at the highest levels of policymaking in the Western world. What is worse is that both nations have made an accurate judgment of these inadequacies and utilized it to their advantage.

It is becoming more and more clear that it would be difficult to impose any worthwhile sanctions because in the long run it would affect the countries imposing the sanctions more than it would India or Pakistan. The modalities of circumventing the sanctions are being discussed by the same nations imposing the sanctions even before the ink has dried on the orders. Obviously, the market potential of more than 1 billion people cannot be ignored. On the contrary, imposition of sanctions, if effective, would only promote self-reliance.

The argument that India or Pakistan has an immature or extremist leadership and therefore might bring about a nuclear holocaust does not cut ice. If it were so, why should either of these countries demonstrate openly to the world that it had nuclear capability? The two countries, in spite of their long-standing quarrels and continuous pinpricks, have shown tremendous maturity in leadership, proved by the fact that there has been no war after 1971. We need not fear any accidental triggering of a nuclear war, since neither country will be on constant alert with bombers or missiles mounted with nuclear warheads at all times.

A lot of noise has been made about spending money on the nuclear program rather than on welfare or growth programs. If this logic is to be applied universally, none of the nuclear powers should have embarked on their nuclear programs or built up huge arsenals. What must be realized is that most of the expenditure is within the country. The spinoffs of a high-tech program will sooner or later reach the public at large.

With regard to the signing of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty or the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the silent question being asked is "What moral right do the nuclear powers have to dictate to the world when they do not impose any restrictions on themselves?" In today's world, every nation, big or small, powerful or weak, is equally accountable. There cannot be one set of rules for the "haves" and another for the "have nots." In fact, it is this factor that has forced even China to go nuclear.

The regional conflicts have been fanned by the major powers from time to time to suit their own short-term interests, both political and economical. If the major powers decide not to get involved in regional conflicts, the world will become a better place to live in.

Where do we go from here? Unless we recognize all the mistakes of the past, we cannot find lasting solutions. First, the United States and the other major powers should recognize that the leadership in the two countries is mature.

Second, the surest way of reducing the chances of a nuclear conflict is by helping to accelerate the pace of development in both India and Pakistan and not by slowing it down.

Third, all the major nuclear powers should agree to dismantle their nuclear arsenals in a time-bound manner and immediately end all testing. This would give them a moral right to preach the doctrine of a nuclear-free world. It then would be easier for the U.N. General Assembly to keep the world nuclear-bomb free.

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