Byline by M J Akbar: The High Fives of the Big Five are over
The release of Pakistan's serial nuclear-offender A.Q. Khan, afterfive years of house arrest, is concrete evidence of the dual narrativethat all nuclear nations employ over proliferation. There may besolemn sermons about law and security in public but there is heroworship of scientists who have delivered in the national, and, in thecase of Khan international, interest.
The hypocrisy is not limited to new arrivals. The official andoft-declared objective of America since President Dwight Eisenhower,who succeeded Truman [the President who ordered the catastrophicbombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki], is a world free of nuclearweapons. But Britain and the United States are the originalproliferators, although you will be sent to Coventry if you daremention such subversive truths. They set up Israel's nuclear weaponsprogramme by supplying technology and reactors. But the three holycows of the nuclear game, America, Britain and Israel, will neverallow even a whisper to arise in the public discourse of eitherIsrael's nuclear status or the Anglo-American alliance's culpability.Dr Henry Kissinger has just written a persuasive essay on the vitaland immediate need to check the growth of nuclear weapons [distributedacross the world and printed in the International Herald Tribune of 7-8 February].
He argues, "Efforts to develop a more nuancedapplication [of nuclear power] have never succeeded, from the doctrineof a geographically limited nuclear war of the 1950s and 1960s to themutual assured destruction theory of general nuclear war of the1970s". Today's dividing lines of ideology and regional conflict,rogue states and non-state actors, he continues, constitute a veryreal possibility of a bomb being used by stealth. The possibility ofpreventing such a catastrophe "will prove increasingly remote unlessthe emerging nuclear weapons program in Iran and the existing one inNorth Korea are overcome".
But everything links back to the cause-and-effect chain. Iran'sprogramme is a consequence of Israel's weaponisation; India wascompelled by China; China was certain that it could not be recognisedas a superpower if it did not create a counteroffensive response tothe Soviet Union and America; and the Soviet Union would not have gonenuclear if America had not displayed the might of the bomb at the endof the Second World War. Pakistan may have passed on information toNorth 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 Kissingermentions every nuclear power except one: Israel. It is a convenientsleight of mind. That apart, he is clear-headed about where theprocess needs to restart. America and Russia control 90% of theworld's weapons, with America having a clear advantage in the numbersgame. Dr Kissinger also implicitly admits that Japan, South Korea andAustralia are weapons-capable; certainly the first two are respondingto North Korea's arsenal.
There is a silent consensus among strategic-policywallahs in much ofthe post-colonial world that nuclear weapons are the only guarantee ofindependence in the age of neo-colonisation. This, as much as Israel,motivates Iran. Teheran has watched America invade nations to itsright and left, and threaten Iran on a regular basis. The pretext isIran's nuclear programme, but there is a double paradox operating. TheWest might argue that the nuclear programme makes Iran vulnerable;Teheran believes that it is safe only because it is in the process ofbecoming a nuclear power. There is no certainty about the radioactivefallout from the destruction of its plants in Natanz or Bushehr. Thisfallout might not be so kind as to restrict itself to Iranianairspace. Dubai, the Gulf, Saudi Arabia and Iraq would be in immediatereach. Contaminated oil, anyone?
Is the alternative a gradual escalation in the number ofnuclear-weapons states, all the new entrants beginning theirenterprise for, naturally, only the peaceful purposes of nuclearenergy?
Not necessarily, although if the present duplicity continues that isprecisely what will happen. The first requirement is to expand theclub of decision-makers on this subject to a realistic 15 or so. Thiswould include the five recognised nuclear powers, the fourunrecognised ones, and those waiting at the door with a polite smileon their face. The dismantling of weapons, if that is considered apriority, cannot be symmetrical. The smaller powers will not surrendertheir deterrent to suit someone's clever numbers game. But the key tode-escalation is some form of security guarantees in which the threatof invasion by a superpower is removed from the range of optionsavailable to it. Will this be acceptable to those who have thecapability of invasion? One thinks not. Some very good arguments canbe made for intervention, including provocation by irresponsiblestates. But unless nations feel that their national integrity can besafe by means other than nuclear weapons, the stockpile of weaponswill continue to grow. If this argument works for Israel then it worksfor Palestine as well. Gaza and the West Bank may not have their ownweapons, but there can always be a surrogate arsenal.
Sometimes, the most important problems need the artificial impetus ofa deadline to move. There is one such visible. America is preparingfor a review conference on the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty in thespring of 2010.
Both the treaty and the world have changed beyond recognition since itwas first envisaged.
The Big Five will have to take a deep breath and ask one questionbefore they pepper the rest of the world with their queries. Why arethey the Big Five of the international jungle? Was there some divinedispensation that made China a member of this Five, smug with nuclearweapons and a veto in the Security Council, and kept India outside?The Big Five were fortuitous in being official allies, although onecould argue that the Indian Army, which fought in Africa, played assignificant a part in the Allied victory as the armies of China andFrance. Moreover, India was a colony, and had no independent right ofchoice between the Allies and the Axis. Be that as it may, what isrelevant is the contemporary world and not that of Hitler andMussolini. To lock the world up in the power equations of 1945 is notthe best route to the solutions needed for 2009 and 2010.
Those who have institutionalised their power always find an excuse topostpone its surrender, if they can no longer justify its continuity.
The rationale heard most often for the veto-nuclear-United Nationsregime is that it has preserved world order for six decades. This istrue only to the point that we have not blown the earth tosmithereens, for the world has seen more conflict after the SecondWorld War than before it. The point should not be lost on the Big Boysthat a noose has emerged: these "minor" conflicts have become thesource of major danger because nuclear weapons could well slip out ofthe tight monopoly of Governments.
The simple fact that A.Q. Khan was never punished is a message thatwill be heard by those who seek to emulate him.