Falling Prey To Deterrence Trap

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The year 2008 has ended on a rather sad note for the Indo-Pak peace process, especially in the wake of the Mumbai attacks. In this new scenario, threats and counter-threats have become the norm in the subcontinent these days. What has added to the gravity of the situation is that both Pakistan and India possess nuclear weapons, which that were once heralded as the vanguards of ‘peace' and ‘security' in the subcontinent.

The year 1998 still haunts us with voices of ‘deterrence' and ‘mutually-assured destruction', and of how nuclear weapons were bound to make the subcontinent safe. The question, however, is: have nuclear weapons really made the subcontinent safe?

The concept of ‘deterrence' is based on the assumption that a country would not attack another equally equipped and powerful country, because the latter can also destroy it on provocation. This concept is credited for having prevented the Cold War from turning into the Third World War. Indian Booker Prize-winner novelist Arundhati Roy rightly states there was no fixed schedule for the Third World War that was prevented by this concept: when there will be a Third World War, it surely will be after the Second one!

A closer look at the Cold War, however, narrates a rather dismal story, one where the world did not turn into a secure and a peaceful one. The Cold War gave birth to one of the most hazardous arms race the world could have ever witnessed. The United States and the Soviet Union stockpiled nuclear weapons in an attempt to outshine the other. The world was constantly at a threat of war as the two states accelerated towards militarisation.

Such a state of existence really cannot be termed the hallmark of security in the world. On the contrary, the accumulation of nuclear weapons turned the respective countries into ‘national security states'.

According to Professor Upendra Baxi, professor at Warwick School of Law and author of The Future of Human Rights, from the very beginning the nuclear industries made secret the process of scientific research and technological development.

The secrecy allowed for monopolisation of information in a few hands and egregious violations of human rights. The democratic essence of accountability and giving people the right to dissent were forgone in the name of ‘security'. Subsequently, there were experiments with human subjects (human beings being exposed to impermissible levels of radiation), irreparable damage to the environment and creation of the hazardous nuclear wastes.

The justification for such draconian measures of ‘security' was based on the propaganda against the ‘enemies': we are only safe because of our nuclear capabilities to destroy them.

Is this what we call being truly safe? Were the millions who perished in the numerous proxy wars stretching from Korea to Vietnam saved by the nuclear weaponry? The United States and the Soviet Union were deterred from fighting a war in their homelands - who cares if they killed almost the same number of people killed in the Second World War elsewhere?

Let us jump a few years ahead to 1998 - the year the subcontinent fell prey to the ‘deterrence' trap. "The dessert shook," claimed the Indian government. "The mountain turned white," replied the Pakistani government. This was the moment of glory for the subcontinent, because they appeared as macho victors capable of destroying the ‘enemy' (of course, themselves included!). The subcontinent was bound to be safe, conflicts were to extinguish and we were to emerge as citizens of sovereign states, but have we?

The model of the Cold War can be easily applied to the subcontinent: Pakistan and India too have become ‘national security states'. The creation of nuclear weapons called for ‘security' that translates into huge networks (defence establishments, industries, civilian scientists, etc) that remain outside the ambit of accountability.

Sufferings of those exposed to radiations at nuclear test sites, whether in Pokhran or Chaghai, are violations of human rights justified in the name of ‘security'. To ensure that the need for such draconian measures of ‘security' is felt, there is structured censorship in dissemination of information, resulting in propaganda through the media. For example, the media in both Pakistan and India is selling half-truths after the Mumbai attacks, which are only adding to insecurity by justifying the possession - and, in some cases, use - of nuclear weapons.

Did nuclear weapons, the tools of mass destruction, succeed in achieving what they were supposed to - reduction in conflicts, sovereignty and security? Unfortunately, the answer is ‘no', because we have seen more conflicts and vulnerability and less progress and sovereignty.

The false sense of security and national euphoria led to the Kargil episode. Moreover, as a result, Pakistan is now at war at many levels. The once scenic northern areas are now home to missiles, bombs and bloodshed, while the Balochs remain increasingly dissatisfied. Post 9/11, the anti-Muslim sentiment has led many to point fingers at Pakistan's ability to protect its nuclear weapons.

A failure to achieve what was initially envisaged is aggravated by the costs associated with nuclear weapons. Everyday hordes rot to unemployment, poverty and disease, but the government chooses to spend billions on nuclear weapons.

The areas struck by the October 8, 2005, earthquake are still as devastated as they were before the tragedy. Will nuclear weapons provide them with shelter and guard them against the grueling cold?

If failures of the nuclear weapons are not enough at the practical level, the ‘deterrence' theory can also be refuted at the level of principles. ‘Deterrence' is predicated on fear: the ‘other' will not attack us out of the fear of being destroyed itself. Recent times, however, prove how fear is something that does not deter many.

What about all those suicide bombers who walk into crowds at shopping malls, markets or bus stands knowing what will be left of them? What about those who blew themselves up in suicide attacks across Pakistan? Assuming the other side would be as fearful as oneself is an assumption stretched too far, especially when it comes as a justification for possessing something as deadly as nuclear weapons.

Secondly, fear is premised on knowledge of how efficiently the other side may destroy us. In a ‘national security state', true information regarding such capabilities is not shared with citizens, let alone the ‘enemy'.

Hence, being fearful of the other side's capabilities is utopian, given the lack of information and rhetoric-filled assertions of leaders from both sides as to how they are superior from the other. Ten years down the line, if we look at the situation around us, we will realise we are not safe.

Is peace merely the absence of violence or does peace imply that when I step out of my house, I need not fear a suicide bomber or any other attack. If we choose to define peace the former way, then yes; we are safe despite the constant threat of war, rampant terrorism, number of people being mercilessly chopped to death everyday and the war Pakistan is fighting at many levels. However, if we choose to define peace the latter way, then we are unsafe.

We cannot be safe in a world where two neighbours, who share the same sufferings at the hands of colonialism and a similar history, are stockpiling death traps that may explode any second. We are not safe until there is absolute peace, which these tools of mass destruction will certainly not grant us.

Masroor manages the SourceONE, marketing and content manager in a global marketing field. If you would like to know more about email marketing or if you are looking for service providers in this domain, please contact us at www.mahaan.net. I can give you a list and comparison of some good companies providing affordable online marketing solutions. 

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