Among the many obstacles to achieving lasting nuclear disarmament is the persistent belief that a nuclear arsenal provides a nation not just with security—a flawed notion itself—but with national prestige. The “superpower” status that allegedly comes with possession of nuclear weapons means that the rest of the world, particularly your enemies, will have to reckon with you. Thus, apart from their supposed deterring effects, a nuclear arsenal would put a nation in a position of parity with the “big boys”. At least, that’s how the argument goes. As a result, nuclear weapons are regarded by some as a source of pride. This sentiment is twisted and dangerous and continues to frustrate disarmament efforts.
A recent NEWSWEEK interview with Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, widely considered the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb and often hailed as a hero by the Pakistani people, reveals how this narrative is ingrained in Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions and posture.
Leaving the strong anti-West rhetoric aside—including legitimate grievances about the Western nuclear power’s double standards regarding nuclear security matters—Dr. Khan’s answers provide some valuable insight into the psychology behind nuclear pride and prestige. Considerations of security, status and pride—all three closely interrelated—make up this sentiment. Excerpts.
Q: Most here take pride in the fact that Pakistan is a nuclear state and believe this has served as a deterrent to conventional war with India.
A: Yes, I fully agree. Our nuclear program has ensured our survival, our security, and our sovereignty ... I am proud to have contributed to it together with my patriotic and able colleagues.