the assumption of responsibility for the welfare of the world













1998 May 17

Weapons of mass destruction are horrific. Their use would appall any decent person. It is difficult to speak of any warfare as discriminating, but these weapons are completely indiscriminate, and designed for use primarily on noncombatants, as punishment for the state they have the misfortune to live under. They kill instantly, and they poison the environment, so as to kill over a longer period of time. They give a small number of persons the ability to kill a very large number of persons, easily, without risk to themselves. The dangers in this are apparent; ICBMs do not walk away from a battle when a leader or commander is out of control.

From our perspective, no nuclear state has ever been a reliable friend of the stewardship or a reliable opponent of dominion. Even the United States, Britain, and France as currently constituted are hybrid states whose recent records indicate that they will still act irresponsibly, selfishly, irrationally. These are not powers which should be augmented by the bomb. The idea that Stalin had nuclear arms, or that Jiang does, is enough to give the strongest moral urgency to universal disarmament.

And again, testing of these weapons is an action we should never trust. Is there a safe way to set off a nuclear bomb? Is there any way to eliminate the risk of an uncontrolled accident, or, should the reaction remain under control, the risk of short-term and long-term public health and environmental damage? Scientists are admirable folk, but they are, as a historical entity, constantly overestimating their knowledge, forever falling into the hubristic trap by which the human race overreaches once too often and consequently suffers as a whole.

But with an international chorus decrying the nuclear tests by India this week, what is most in want of outrage is not war but hypocrisy. Because war there will be, with or without nuclear weapons, and it is always dreadful, and yet the existence of tanks and machine guns and bombers seems not to bother the great powers who do not want another state joining their exclusive club.

India, Pakistan, and Israel are nuclear powers, and this is widely known. They are not signatories to the two major control conventions, and there are thus no legalistic grounds for censure, though legalism is the preferred recourse for the community of states in cases like this.

The moral grounds for censure are strong, and they are exactly as above ― that nuclear weapons are too dreadful to be used, that no one can be trusted with them, and that even a controlled detonation is too great a risk. There are seven states besides India who have no business making this censure, though, and countless others which, if not participating in a double standard, have at least applied it willingly in the case of one ally or another. Why should India not be armed, if the United States is? How can India not be armed, if China is? The modern state of India has at least never been a dictatorship. Given its size and its material poverty, its adherence to democracy is most extraordinary, even heroic. It was more admirable when it abstained from nuclear weapons, but its departure from that abstention was understandable.

The nonsense about an arms race is further hypocrisy. India is not starting an arms race with Pakistan; it is being engaged in one with China. Nuclear testing by a nationalist democracy is one thing. Nuclear missiles in the hands of a tyranny is something else, something much more troubling.

1998 May 31

And now there are seven acknowledged nuclear powers. Pakistan has gone so far as to vow assembly of nuclear missiles, and surely India, even supposing that it has not already mounted warheads, will soon acknowledge possession of nuclear missiles as well. Hopefully the two states will be content with a deterrent capability, and will not spend their peoples further into poverty by escalating their competitive defense expenditures.

The poverty question is rather important. It is well worth asking whether two states with such living conditions have nothing better to do with their resources. The industrial states of the west have the resources (even if they are dependent on exploitation of other parts of the world) to provide each resident a decent standard of living. Their failure to do so is a political problem, therefore. But Pakistan and India do not have the resources, and yet they squander resources to defend themselves from other developing states.

Given the political situation in China, Pakistan is more to be trusted with these powerful weapons. But its credentials as an open, democratic society are seriously called into question when its first significant act after the nuclear detonations is the suspension of civil and judicial procedure. If a consequence of nuclear statehood is a rollback of liberal society, the price is higher even than a furtherance of impoverishment. And it seems likely that Pakistan has learned to sacrifice the truth to geopolitics: independent seismic measurements make its claim of five successful tests in its first round extremely hard to believe.

India, on the other hand, is more to be trusted than any of its six acknowledged rivals. Fifty years ago, it was under the oppression of a colonial régime and its native caste system. The founders of the modern state defeated Britain with passive resistance, and largely abolished the caste system. They created a secular state and worked against religious sectarianism. That state, with a billion residents, most of them poor, is nonetheless a functioning democracy. As such, it is one of the great sources of hope for the progress of the rest of the world.

But no one can be trusted with nuclear weapons. No one can be trusted with biological or chemical weapons. No one can be trusted with an army; but an army, at least, is composed of individuals, and its force for destruction is only as great as the compliance of those individuals. We will have to hope that the nuclear states of the world do not outlive their restraint, for if they do, the world will not outlive their restraint. We will all go down together.

1998 August 9

Fighting between India and Pakistan over Kashmir is nothing new, not even in the context of the new nuclear situation. Indeed, there were firefights going on during the testing period. But this latest clash is a level more serious. At least a hundred, primarily non-combatant, individuals have been killed. That is as yet a small relative number for a war between these two states. But it is enough for the individuals involved. And it should be enough to warn the rest of us.

Likely the people of Kashmir would choose to live under Pakistan. Possibly they would choose to live in a separate state. It may be that some of them would prefer to remain with India. But we can be certain that the present situation has no basis in self-determination. Kashmir was assigned to India in the partition by a hereditary prince with no popular mandate. Everything the British sanctioned up to that point was royalist, and it would have been perfectly legitimate to Britain if an autocrat determined “his” people’s future based on his own personal affiliations. The Congress, devoted to secularism, rejected any partition, at least in part because of the sectarian significance of the plan. But there was a part of that rejection resting solely on arbitrary nationalism, and that part has come to dominate the determination of India to hang on to Kashmir. Pakistan historically has laid claim to the entire muslim population of British India. They clearly will not abandon that claim. Meanwhile, the people of Kashmir are given no say in the matter, while they are being gunned down and blown up to satisfy historical assertions with no just rationale.

1998 August 30

Pakistan’s Nawaz Sharif is vowing to adopt Islamic law, specifically enshrining the Koran and Islamic customary law. Pakistan was founded as a state for muslims, but that did not make it an Islamic state. Of course, since Pakistan is a democracy (of a sort), we can only expect from Pakistan what we expect from other democracies. There are many, perhaps a majority, who would adopt fundamentalist Christianity in some of the stable democracies of the west. There is never a second thought about behaving as if the US, for example, is a Christian nation. Pakistan was by origin more Islamic than the US was Christian. But we can still hope for enlightenment and tolerance. If that comes, it may be merest fortune: the proposal may have two-thirds support in the national assembly, but probably not in the senate. A narrow margin of security for what remains of secularism there.

The nuclear saga continues, 1998 September 27

Previous statements in this space may have given another impression, but the proffered accession of India and Pakistan to the comprehensive test-ban treaty for nuclear weapons is an enormous step forward. They are, of course, as entitled to explode nuclear devices as the recognized nuclear powers ― not at all. We must now hope that the offers are made good on, and that we are somewhat closer to a nuclear-free world.

Briefly, 1998 October 11

Pakistan is a step closer to Islamic law with the adoption of Sharia by the lower house of parliament. The firewall will surely be tested.


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