Thursday, September 23, 2010

Heads held high?

Interview with a true nuclear believer

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[1] 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.

Q: The CIA chief, Leon Panetta, said earlier this year that Pakistan is now the headquarters of Al Qaeda. British leaders have declared Pakistan the exporter of global terrorism. Is this accurate, and, if so, what can Pakistan do to turn the tide?

A: The CIA chief—like his bosses and those before him—is a liar. There is no headquarters of Al Qaeda in Pakistan. Yes, Pakistan has become very unsafe due to foreign troops in Afghanistan. Our cohesion has been shattered. The spineless political leaders have turned our country—a nuclear and missile power with [180] million people—into a beggar state, a third-rate country. If there had been any pride left in our leaders, they would have responded appropriately and nobody would have dared to say such things in the first place.

Q: There is also the popular theory that Pakistan is a nation with no sustainable identity. The bomb, like cricket, is one of those things that bind all Pakistanis in common pride and cause. Do you agree?

A: Pakistan was not an artificially created country. We, the Muslims in India, were a separate nation with a distinct culture, history, social order, and heritage. By any definition we were a nation. Unfortunately, selfish, narrow-minded leaders broke it into ethnic groups, which led to exploitation. Nuclear weapons made the nation walk with heads held high.

The last sentence is particularly telling. In a view which equals military might to prestige, nuclear weapons represent the pinnacle of pride. This pride, however, comes at a price. Surely, the Pakistani people would rather have the billions of dollars invested in the Pakistani nuclear program go to improving the country’s flood defenses or addressing its social and developmental problems.

In the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s (NAPF) Briefing Booklet for the 2010 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, entitled ‘Shifting the Mindset’,[2] Dr. David Krieger distinguishes the different categories across the spectrum of perspectives on nuclear weapons. They range from believing nuclear weapons are essential assets at one end to seeking their total elimination at the other. Being responsible for providing nuclear know-how to Iran, Libya and North Korea, Dr. Khan falls in the category of ‘Nuclear Believers’, a group that believes nuclear deterrence always works and—at the most extreme—promotes the proliferation of nuclear weapons to other countries.

The main theme of the Briefing Booklet is the need for a shift in mindset to a new way of thinking about the nuclear dilemma confronting mankind. It recognizes that the main challenge for the nuclear abolition movement is to bring about such a shift. For as long as views such as those expressed by Dr. Khan persevere, sustainable nuclear disarmament will remain elusive.

Part of shifting the mindset is delegitimizing nuclear pride and prestige and to show instead that there is nothing honorable about having these monstrous instruments of mass destruction. It is imperative that we move towards a world where a nation that abolishes its nuclear weapons (or refrains from pursuing them) may walk with heads held high.

[1] ‘Western Hypocrisy’,
[2] ‘Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament: Shifting the Mindset’, Dr. David Krieger, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

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