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Nuclear-Free World — A Distant Dream | Talat Masood

President Barak Obama’s visit to Hiroshima was clearly a momentous event. It brought back memories of one of the greatest tragedies that mankind suffered 71 years ago, not as a result of a natural but a man-made disaster. The occasion provided the world a moment to reflect on the dangers inherent to it as long as nuclear weapons exist. During this visit, President Obama made an impressive speech on the desirability of reducing the nuclear stockpile and the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons, which was strong in rhetoric but short in substance. The US and Russia are still caught in the Cold War legacy. Extraordinary advancement in technology has resulted in increasing the lethal power of nuclear warheads a thousand-fold. Apart from a few modest gains under a deal that Russia and the US ratified in 2010 to limit weapons, there has been no real progress towards non-proliferation. President Obama, of course, deserves credit for successfully concluding the Iran nuclear deal that restricts Tehran from limiting its ability to produce enriched uranium. But the US’s renewed efforts to modernise its nuclear weapons would surely lead to Russia following suit with the overall strategic picture remaining bleak. China, too, may find compelling circumstances to step up its efforts to modernise and expand its nuclear and missile forces. As long as reliance on nuclear weapons continues to be the cardinal principle of global adversaries, progress on disarmament will remain stagnant.

If the US pursues the logic of responding to the Russian build-up for refining its nuclear arsenal, then on what moral or political basis can it argue that Pakistan not react to Indian qualitative nuclear advances? The enthusiasm that the four Cold War warriors, former secretary of state George Schultz, former secretary of defence Bill Perry, former secretary of state Henry Kissinger and Senator Sam Nun, generated when they joined each other to form the Nuclear Security Project “to galvanise global action to reduce urgent nuclear dangers and build support for reducing reliance on nuclear weapons, ultimately ending them” has since largely faded. This is despite the fact that several former senior politicians and statesmen around the world and across political divides endorsed the call and demanded a global dialogue on reducing reliance on nuclear weapons and making the world a safer place.

However, Perry continues to remain active in his efforts at disarmament and in a recent statement warned of the dangers inherent in the new nuclear arms race that the two nuclear superpowers are pursuing. In essence, these dangerous policies are a throwback to the Cold War days. The nuclear competition between the US and Russia is likely to be duplicated by other nuclear weapon states, making the world more dangerous. The magnitude of the build-up can be gauged by Pentagon’s plans to spend $1 trillion on nuclear bomber missiles and submarines, and upgrading its nuclear warheads in the next decade. With such brazenly aggressive policies, the US is setting a bad example to other nuclear states to follow. If the US and Russia would have embarked seriously on further arms reduction, a synergy could have been developed whereby other nuclear nations would have followed their lead. The US justifies these developments as a response to Russia’s aggressive posturing and its sabre-rattling. The action-reaction phenomenon, a replay of the Cold War-behaviour, would surely lead to heightening of tensions with global ramifications.

For the US, another destabilising element is Russia’s modernisation of tactical nuclear arsenal. It is not that tactical weapons are new for Europe as they have been deployed by both America and Russia in the past, but in the present state of tension they are a major source of concern to the US and its Western allies. As sabre-rattling picks momentum and differences over Ukraine remain unresolved, it brings danger of nuclear war close to the European theatre. Surely, the use of tactical weapons in Europe would have disastrous consequences and invite a massive retaliatory response. Its utility is thus questionable and host countries should be wary of deploying these. Employment of low-yield tactical weapons will invite the same massive response as any other nuclear weapon. It will be a folly to expect that any country can get away once it crosses the nuclear threshold, however small it may be. For Pakistan and India, too, the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons invites similar dangers and prudence demands they revisit their policies on tactical and low-yield nuclear weapons. Ironically, Japan, the worst victim of nuclear weapons, opposed the resolution recently sponsored by the group of 60 countries for a nuclear-free world. Opposition by the US was expected for obvious reasons but Japan’s opposition was apparently linked to the extended deterrence that it enjoys under the US umbrella.

It is unlikely that the next US president will pursue any different nuclear policies from that of his predecessor. If at all, he or she may take a tougher position. Off-the-cuff remarks of Republican nominee Donald Trump reflected a lack of understanding of strategic issues when he suggested Japan should develop its own deterrence capability instead of relying on the US. With a nomination ensured, hopefully he will receive saner advice and be better informed. Hillary Clinton’s views on dealing with Russia and global nuclear issues are close to that of the establishment. With the change in US administration, pressure on Pakistan’s nuclear programme is expected to increase, at least initially. But having been subjected to unfair discrimination on its nuclear policy since its very inception it will not be anything new. North Korea is likely to draw the maximum attention of the next US president as rightly pointed out by Siegfried Hecker, a keen observer of North Korea’s nuclear programme. Already North Korea has conducted four nuclear tests and the rate at which it is building its inventory, in a decade it could have about 25 nuclear bombs. All these developments indicate that the goal of a nuclear-free world is a distant dream despite President Obama’s well-intentioned pronouncements.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 1st, 2016.


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