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A necessary evil

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Russian Topol-M ballistic missile launchers drive through Red Square during Victory Day parade rehearsals in Moscow on May 6, 2010. ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP

A necessary evil

The mention or even the thought of nuclear weapons sends jitters down the spines of almost everyone. The reaction is universally one of horror and rejection.

The day after the Balakot raid by Indian Air Force Mirage warplanes, half the people the writer personally heard reminded him that Pakistan has the atom bomb.

The refrain was – would Pakistan’s General Bajwa use it in retaliation to India’s destruction of the Jaish terror factories in Balakot?

Others exclaimed – what a curse the bomb is on mankind! Yet another said: – the nuclear bomb will one day bring doomsday upon humanity, even if God fails to do so!

However, in this cacophony of views and soundbites, what is strange is that this writer has not heard such cries of pessimism from a Muslim. Is this optimism that the faith inspires? Or is it fatalism?

One thing is certain, though. Those who indulge in wholesale condemnation of nuclear arms are either ignorant or prejudiced, or both.

Do they not see and recognise that the world has not seen the level of fighting and killing in World War II since 1945 – ie, for the last 74 years?

Monstrous damage

World War II on the other hand, followed WWI within just 21 years. Between these two cataclysms, 74 million human lives were lost.

Then one must not forget the Cold War, wherein the major portion of the world was involved.

The Soviet Union, one of the protagonist blocs of the Cold War, lost the conflict and broke up into 16 countries. Not just that, an entire ideology – Communism – met its demise across the world.

The 43-year (1948 to 1991) engagement therefore, can be called World War III although there was no overt fighting – neither superpower fired a gun nor killed any of each other’s soldiers.

Yet a two century-old Czarist Empire, which had morphed into the Soviet Union, was torn asunder.

In the process, the greatest challenge to the capitalist ideology was put to sleep.

The credit for a nuclear holocaust not happening ought to go not only to the presence of nuclear weapons, but equally to the fact that the US Air Force actually dropped two of them over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

But for the atomic bombing, no one would have seen or visualised what monstrous damage a bomb of the size of perhaps not much larger than a volleyball was capable of inflicting.

How two cities and most of their people, buildings and all, went up in holy smoke in less than an hour.

Had such a mega holocaust not been witnessed by the human eye, some innocent soul either in the Kremlin or in the Pentagon might have just touched a button and simply unleashed a thermonuclear colossus over civilisation.
Even Doomsday might have looked a pygmy by comparison.

The likelihood of a naive finger pressing a nuclear button is not all that difficult to imagine.

Particularly so, if one harks back to Napoleon Bonaparte ordering his Grand Army to march to Moscow, knowing fully well that winter visits the year like a turning wheel.

The resulting fate of the Grande Armee as well as the eventual destiny of L’Emperor at Waterloo are well known.

Did the next would be conqueror pick up any lesson from Napoleon’s denouement? Not the least.

Adolf Hitler – and it is only fair to assume here that the Fuhrer must have been acquainted with French history – embarked upon his venture so close to his heart, Operation Barbarossa, in June 1941.

All he achieved was to convert his hitherto triumph in western Europe into the ghastly tragedy of Stalingrad. The turning wheel of the Russian winter would forgive no one.

Yet the intoxicated conqueror never restrains himself, and Hitler proved he was no exception to this rule.

It is by no means inconceivable nor unlikely that a villain of similar proportions might have one day gotten his hands on the nuclear button.

But for the holocausts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the unthinkable might actually have happened.

By 1948, the USA would have manufactured a good number of atom bombs. This was the year when the Soviet Union made the city of Berlin out of bounds by land.

The Soviet blockade of Berlin was sufficient provocation for a proud American President to threaten to drop an atom bomb in order to relieve the Soviet ring around Berlin.

It did not happen – evidently, the USA did not wish to repeat the sin of Hiroshima. The world however, found itself staring at the nuclear precipice in 1962.

Under its leader Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Union tried to pull a fast one over its rival. It tried to surreptitiously install nuclear missiles in Cuba pointed northwards at the US.

Washington caught on to the conspiracy as well as the danger – its southern state of Florida is just a stone’s throw away from Cuba. The US prevented the Soviet ships bringing in the warheads but only on the threat of doing another Nagasaki.

In the eventuality, neither side ventured to risk a nuclear clash, although it was the Soviet Union which had to blink first.

Nine years later, the shadow of a nuclear Armageddon loomed again, this time over the subcontinent. In 1971, during the Indo-Pakisten war over Bangladesh, there arose another threat of a nuclear clash.

The US dispatched a part of its Seventh Fleet led by the aircraft carrier, USS Enterprise, to the Bay of Bengal in the month of December that year to bolster the beleaguered Pakistani forces, which were at the receiving end of a rapidly advancing Indian army.

To cover the Indian army and to thwart any American bullying, the Soviet Union sent its nuclear submarines to stalk the Seventh Fleet and particularly the Enterprise.

Although it appeared a nuclear showdown would occur in our backyard, both sides hung on to their restraint. Neither side fired a bullet.

Not a weapon of utility

While the sands of time ran on until 1971 and no nuclear device was used, quite a few other countries joined the USA and USSR in going nuclear.

Britain became the third nuclear power in 1955, followed by France, which created its own nuclear force called “Force de Frappe”.

The nuclear club was looked upon as an exclusive arena and the insiders were determined to keep it that way. That was not to last for long – China went nuclear in 1964.

India shed its pacifist inhibitions 10 years later in 1974.

Pakistan, whose scientist AQ

Khan smuggled out nuclear techno-logy from the Netherlands, joined the club after India tested a second time in 1998.

So far, members of the nuclear club have accepted that such weapons are a symbol of international status as well as defence against nuclear blackmail but not a weapon of utility.

An American writer has described the possession of nuclear arsenals as achieving mutual balance of terror.

In short, possession of such arms has become an invaluable defence so long as a country doesn’t use it.

Iraq, Libya and Serbia were invaded and their governments overthrown – they were helpless in the absence of a nuclear deterrent. It is not surprising therefore that North Korea and Iran, learning from this experience, have pursued a deterrent. The Statesman (India)/ Asia News Network

Prafull Goradia is an author, thinker and a former member of parliament.

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