The Taste of Grass
The last fifty years of the nuclear age teach three things. Firstly, nuclear weapons are no guarantee that a state will win a war it chooses to fight. Nuclear weapons states have elected to fight wars on many occasions and have lost many of them. Secondly, nuclear weapons offer no freedom from attempts to intimidate or threaten; they are not an effective deterrent because thirdly, terror does not last. People get used to it and new and greater sources of terror are required.
by Zia Mian *
Are the people of Pakistan ready to eat grass? More than thirty years
ago, when he set this country on the path leading directly to the
nuclear crisis it faces today, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto warned Pakistan
that this might be the cost of having nuclear weapons. To this can be
added the question: are they ready for nuclear war? Both may follow if
the decision is made to carry out a nuclear weapons test. The day has
come to decide.
Because the matter is so grave, those who making suggestions about
what is the right thing to do must be responsibile and honest about
what they are saying. The matter is too important to be discussed with
the usual sly and slippery phrases about nuclear options,
capabilities, tests, parity and the 'balance of terror' that are
common to writing about nuclear issues. This is a time to write and
speak from the heart with all the understanding of the world that one
can bring to bear.
The issue is simply put. India's BJP government has carried out a
series of nuclear explosions. They have wanted India to have nuclear
weapons for many years and obviously think they have the right to use
them as they want. This is a terrible and contemptible thing, and the
whole world should condemn it. But that is now done.
The immediate question is what Pakistan should do? The answer to this
question lies in how one understands what nuclear weapons are, what
they can do, what they cannot do, and what happens if Pakistan tests.
What is a nuclear weapon test supposed to prove for Pakistan? It is
obviously much more than letting off a nuclear explosion in a hole
somewhere in Baluchistan. Pakistan is believed to have developed but
not yet tested nuclear weapons of the kind that were used over 50
years ago by the United States against Japan.
In the city of Hiroshima, one atomic bomb killed between 210,000 and
270,000 people, and destroyed more than 90 per cent of the city.
Pakistan's nuclear test will demonstrate that, like the BJP, it has
the power to kill, maim and poison hundreds of thousands of innocent
people in the blink of an eye. Agreeing to a nuclear test is to agree
that the state of Pakistan should have the power to devastate one or
more of India's major cities in this way.
What does having this power do for Pakistan? The last fifty years of
the nuclear age teach three things. First and most important, nuclear
weapons are no guarantee that a state will win any war it chooses to
fight. Nuclear weapons states have elected to fight wars on many
occasions and have lost many of them. Britain fought and lost at Suez,
even though they it had already developed nuclear weapons. The United
States suffered significant defeats during the Korean war and the war
ended with a stalemate. The French lost Algeria, even though they had
their nuclear weapons. China's nuclear weapons did not help it against
The most famous examples are of course the defeat of the United States
in Vietnam, and the Soviet Union in Afghanistan despite having
enormous numbers of nuclear weapons. In all these cases, a non-nuclear
state fought and won against a nuclear armed state.
If nuclear weapons cannot guarantee that a state will win its wars,
what else can they do? The last fifty years also teaches that nuclear
weapons offer no freedom from attempts to intimidate or threaten. At
different times during the Cold War both the US and the Soviet Union
made nuclear threats numerous times, with the United States making
around twenty such threats and the Soviet Union making five or six.
The efforts at such blackmail were not affected even by both states
having massive and equal nuclear arsenals. Nuclear politics stopped
when the situations that led to crises between them stopped.
At the heart of the demand for testing is the claim that nuclear
weapons are supposed to deter attacks by other nuclear weapons and so
prevent war between nuclear armed states. Pakistan's nuclear weapons
are supposed to stop India using its nuclear weapons in a war, and so
stop a war altogether. This is exactly the argument that has been used
for the last decade to justify the now suddenly inadequate ňnuclear
optionă ˛ which until last week was supposed to be deterring India
from starting a war. If it was enough to scare the Indian government
last week then why not now? What has changed?
The answer to this question is the third lesson to be drawn from the
last fifty years. Terror does not last. People get used to it and new
and greater sources of terror are required. This is clear from the
arsenals of all five of the established nuclear weapons state, who
claim like India and Pakistan to face enemies with nuclear weapons.
The nuclear weapons states have all increased their arsenals from a
few nuclear weapons to hundreds of weapons and they all rely on
thermonuclear weapons that are tens if not hundreds or thousands of
times more destructive than the simple nuclear weapons they started
with. This is what explains why one of India's recent nuclear test
explosions was thermonuclear. A few days ago, the Indian Prime
Minister declared "We have a big bomb now for which the necessary
command and control system is also in place."
It is clear that if the basis of Pakistan's security is to be nuclear
weapons that can match India, then Pakistan will in time have to test
a thermonuclear weapon of its own. And how many will it have to make?
And then there the missiles. And the command and control systems. The
list goes on, and on.
This arms race is not something new about to start. It has been a slow
tortuous marathon for fifty years. It is the one constant, apart from
hostility and proximity, in the relationship between Pakistan and
India and it has always been an unequal race.
Pakistan is less able to run, but the desperate terror of India that
has been taught everyone along with the occassional kicks and punches
from the army have forced it to keep the poor, tired and battered body
of the nation on the move. It is exhausted despair that makes the
nuclear test so appealing to so many.Pride in something, anything, no
matter how misplaced, is offered to them as some consolation for all
the pain. A nuclear medal.
But the race is not over. It will keep going and get more difficult.
No one doubts that if Pakistan carries out a nuclear explosion there
will be sanctions. There is no point debating the rights and wroings
of such sanctions here. It will happen as surely as the sun will set.
The consequences are there to see, one only has to look at what
happened during the last few days. Two instances will suffice.
On May 12th, the day after the first set of Indian tests, Pakistan
asked for $1.69 billion from the donor countries and international
institutions that make up the Pakistan Development Forum, at a meeting
chaired by a Japanese Vice-President of the World Bank. At this
meeting, the Finance Minister is said to have described Pakistan as
facing an insurmountable financial burden. At the same time the
International Monetary Fund asked the Central Board of Revenue in
Islamabad to connect its database on receipts directly to the
computers at the Fund's headquarters in Washington.
Unlike India, Pakistan is absolutely dependent on the World Bank and
IMF. These international financial institutions based in Washington,
and dominated by the US, have kept Pakistan afloat in recent years.
Japan, the largest aid donor to Pakistan, is certain to cut off its
aid. Even before this crisis it was suggested that Britain may tie
future aid to reductions in Pakistan's military spending. Like it or
not, Pakistan has used up a lot of its good will among nations over
the years precisely through its neglect of the welfare of its people
as it struggled to keep up in the arms race with India. There is no
one who will come to help and Pakistan cannot survive alone.
The decision over nuclear testing is the moment to say enough. Fifty
years of hateful and wasteful competition has meant living in that
squalid and desolate place between war and peace, and that is enough.
India can do what it wants, that is for Indians to worry about. The
people of Pakistan will survive if a nuclear weapon is not tested.
Many if not all of them would exchange their ticket into the nuclear
club for new hope for the day after. The alternative for them is
stark. It is they who will go hungry when there is no money to pay for
the massive yearly imports of wheat. It is they who will be condemned
to eat grass to pay for this nuclear test.
(* Dr Zia Mian is a Research Associate at the Center for Energy and Environmental Studies, Princeton University, and teaches at the Woodrow Wilson School for Public and International Affairs.| The above was written soon after Pakistan's Nuclear Tests of May 1998)
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