Simulated consensus

The number of independently nuclear states in Asia has risen to four. Though the increment to the total nuclear capacity on the continent is marginal, the potential for a nuclear catastrophe remains high. The current destructive capacity of India and Pakistan is admittedly limited. But the permanent state of friction between the two countries, arising from the protracted dispute over Kashmir, increases the possibility of any one of the recurring conventional conflicts escalating into nuclear revanchism. Given the high density of subcontinental population, particularly in the large metropolises of both countries, even these two limited kiloton arsenals can unleash extraordinary havoc.

Polities built on hyper-real security anxieties deliberately shun mechanisms for verifying the popular consent for measures that purport to be in the interest of national defence. Consequently, through intermediary agents in the political, academic and information arenas, the belief is orchestrated that the nuclear talisman will exorcise its own nihilistic spectres. This conviction of the security establishment is deemed for all practical purposes to represent a national consensus. Rodham Narasimha, a leading exponent of India's current policy, claimed that the committee that prepared the Draft Nuclear Policy was composed of a broad crosssection of views and hence represented a national consensus. Since a consensus predisposed to policies already decided is forged by stealth in select committees, it is also simultaneously necessary to obstruct any discordant public campaign that disputes the legitimacy and rationale of the simulated consensus.

Through a process, eloquently described by the eminent historian and peace campaigner, EP Thompson, critics of this putative consensus are consigned to a recalcitrant, lunatic fringe that supposedly does not appreciate the gravitas of state. The police, the press, both 'sophisticated' and scurrilous, political parties, scientific luminaries and strategic analysts are commandeered to certify the imprudence of the dissenters and the illegitimacy of their belief, even if they are otherwise people of professional eminence and distinction. This is the state-inspired environment of hostility that confronts the incipient anti-nuclear movement in South Asia.

An obvious aspect of the current South Asian reality is that potential weapon-level nuclearisation is a very recent development. Inevitably, the movement against it is embryonic, more sporadic than continuous, and has yet to secure for itself a large enough domestic constituency to attain the critical mass that could even minimally inhibit nuclear gusto, let alone determine positive policy outcomes in its favour. By contrast, reflecting the long history of nuclear escalation in the NATO countries, the nuclear disarmament campaign has been tempered by more than fifty years of experience.

Oppenheimer and Einstein

In the years immediately following the second world war, campaigns against nuclear weapons were stronger in Europe than they were in the United States. By the mid-1950s, several groups had emerged in Britain, the most prominent being the National Council for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons Tests, the H-Bomb National Campaign, and the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear Weapons, more famously known as the DAC. These early efforts prepared the ground for the emergence of arguably the most influential and wellpublicised anti-nuclear group in the world—the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), established in 1958 on a platform of unilateral disarmament.

In the Netherlands the Dutch Interchurch Peace Council (IKV), was active in the anti-nuclear campaign against NATO's nuclear plans. The Dutch protests had an impact in the Flemish part of Belgium, while West Germany, being a frontline state also witnessed fairly hectic anti-nuclear activity. In Europe, while the movement maintained a constant schedule of campaign activities, it peaked in two phases, first from the late 1950s to the mid-1960s and then from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s. Both these cycles of resurgence coincided with crucial policy measures being considered by European governments concerning the upgradation of nuclear weapons, as part of the NATO's strategic plans.

In the US the anti-nuclear movement came into existence a few years later than it did in Europe. This was not simply due to the fact that the American mainland experienced no fighting during the second world war, unlike Europe, which was left to rebuild itself from the rubble. The political climate in the US placed too many hurdles in the way of open dissent against the sacred aspects of US strategic policy. Consequently, a distinctive feature of the US anti-bomb campaign was that it was first initiated by some of the most eminent scientists of the time, not all of whom were immune from persecution. Beginning with Robert Oppenheimer's disavowal of the atom bomb, and the petition by scientists, among them Albert Einstein, pleading against the use of nuclear knowledge for destructive ends, many leading scientists lobbied against weapons' production. In 1946, Albert Einstein and eight other scientists formed the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists, to educate American people about the nature of nuclear weapons and nuclear war. Leo Szilard, the physicist and biophysicist, who had worked on the Manhattan Project, undertook extensive lecture tours on the perils of nuclear war.

The earliest organised initiatives from outside the scientific community came in the late 1950s with the founding of the Committee for Non-Violent Action (CNVA) by the War Resisters League. The tradition of distinguished scientists campaigning against nuclear proliferation gave rise, in 1958, to one of the most enduring and respected groups, the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE), founded by the 1954 chemistry Nobel laureate Linus Pauling along with the Norman Cousins. This period also saw the emergence of sectional and professional campaign groups advocating disarmament.

As in Europe, the peace movement saw renewed anti-nuclear activity and an expansion in the number of groups from the mid-1970s, signalling the increase in tension and in nuclear proliferation. This period saw the growth of more local level activity, such as the Clamshell Alliance, formed in 1976 in New London, Connecticut, which became a model for grassroots antinuclear groups across US, and the Livermore Action Group in 1982. Groups seeking a wider constituency continued to emerge. These included the Mobilization for Survival (MOBS) in 1978, and the US Comprehensive Test Ban Coalition in 1985.

Interiors of state

Viewed in terms of membership and activities, the nuclear disarmament movement has an impressive record of achievements. But viewed in terms of the actual numbers of nuclear weapons that were produced and the number of tests conducted the net results are rather more disappointing. In addition to the fact that till 1996 there had been a total of 2096 tests, the global tally of nuclear warheads has steadily increased from a few hundred in 1950 to 38,000 in 1968 reaching a peak of about 70,000 in the mid-80's, before declining to the current figure of about 36,000. In other words, after 50 years of sustained campaigning, the size of the arsenal is marginally smaller than it was 30 years ago.

Through the five decades of peace activism the US maintained a nuclear weapons production complex consisting of 19 sites occupying more than 3900 square miles. The complex has involved over its life several hundred facilities, and more than 900 uranium mines and mills. The complex includes 14 production reactors, eight separation and reprocessing plants, and 239 underground storage tanks for high-level waste.

Clearly, the anti-nuclear movement was very effective in mobilising people and co-ordinating their activities, but what was this mobilisation doing? The relationship between the movement and the nuclear establishment, in terms of its influence on testing, production and deployment appears to have been rather limited. Decisions were being taken from the insulated interiors of the state that did not pay any heed to the protest movement.

It is customary for groups within the movement to point to the various treaties that punctuated the Cold War as a sign of their influence. However, anti-nuclear activism merely provided a general backdrop against which the treaties were concluded. But even if the argument were to be conceded, in the context of the unremitting escalation between 1950 and 1987, the question that arises is, precisely what purpose did these treaties serve.

The Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1963 was demonstrably inadequate to check the expansion of the global arsenal, and the current total of warheads is in excess of the 1963 level. The only other treaty of any significance during the Cold War was the 1972 Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I), which was concluded after two and a half years of talks, and consisted of an Anti Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and an Interim Agreement on Strategic Offensive Arms. The ABM Treaty served many purposes internal to the nuclear establishments on both sides and contributed very little to the cause of nuclear risk reduction. If anything it accentuated the risk.

In effect, the ABM was a fait accompli, in that it reduced, on paper, the role of the defensive system that in practice was deemed to be unworkable. On the other hand, the Interim Agreement, while freezing strategic ballistic missile launchers at existing -Levels of deployment and construction, permitted an increase in Sea Launched Ballistic Missile launchers up to an agreed level, subject only to the condition that a corresponding number of older SLBM's or Inter- Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) be destroyed or dismantled. In short, SALT I simply upheld the theory of deterrence, which would have been undermined by the construction of a comprehensive defensive shield. A functioning and efficient shield would quite simply have rendered offensive weapons and its corollary, the theory of deterrence, redundant.

The redundance of deterrence clearly did not suit an entrenched and autonomous nuclear establishment, and hence the consistent effort to salvage the ABM treaty by linking all other subsequent treaty talks to strict adherence to the ABM. The only agreement that actually addressed the issue of reducing the offensive arsenal, though signed in 1979, was never ratified, and it was only after the collapse of the Soviet Union that the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty came into effect, ten years after talks on it had commenced.

In the circumstances, START can be clearly be ascribed to the end of necessity, and not to the compulsion for peace. If, therefore, the treaties prior to it are attributed to the influence of the peace movement, that does not add up to much of a success, since the treaties were the routine rituals of the Cold War, for the most part clearing the board, eliminating obsolete weapons, and laying the rules for sustained production of offensive weapons. Talks and treaties were paying more attention to the technical details of strategic and defensive balance than to the peace movement, and was in effect rationalising the arsenals by clearing the board under agreed rules and conditions.

The unresponsive polity

Beneath the appearance of success lurked some memorable failures. Two instances, from the UK and the US respectively, where the peace movements were strongest, point to the specific issues on which the antinuclear campaign failed comprehensively. These failures were not uniquely because of the inadequacy of the movement. They were in large part due to the inadequacy of the so-called liberal state.

The UK example brings out the anomalies of liberal political theory, highlighting the conflict between interest groups in civil society and interest groups in the state and the inadequacy of the electoral mechanism to resolve the dispute in favour of civil politics. In Britain's 1964 general elections, the Labour Party, following sustained pressure from the CND, campaigned on a platform of cancelling the sitting government's plans to purchase Polaris nuclear submarines for upgrading missile delivery to the SLBM system. On coming to power, Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson reneged on the electoral commitment, and proceeded with the purchase of the submarines from the USA. In the case of the US, the entire elected system simply refused to accede to a popularly expressed opinion. Senators Edward Kennedy and Mark Hartfield introduced, in March 1982, a nuclear freeze resolution. Despite the evident popular support for the freeze resolution the House of Representatives rejected the resolution by a narrow majority.

Clearly the anti-nuclear movement was a victim of politics in unresponsive polities in which they failed in general, barring very few exceptions, either to transform themselves into entrenched political forces, or to orient existing political forces toward their goals.

In contrast, movements that managed to either transform themselves into political parties or acquire a surrogate political partner achieved some limited success. In the UK, the movement suffered from the fatal flaw of being irrelevant to mainstream electoral politics and was therefore unable to inspire politics. In the US, though the movement by and large belonged to the mainstream, it was far too depoliticised to inspire politics. Consequently, neither was able to react in any coherent way to an unresponsive polity, some of whose security institutions ran on semi-clandestine lines.

Mobilising South Asia

Clearly, the western experience in anti-nuclear campaigning has some lessons for South Asia, despite the vast difference in context. These differences are important. Unlike in the Cold War campaign, where the two nuclearised zone were mutually inaccessible, in the case of India and Pakistan, peace activists in both countries can work in tandem, and there has been some limited though continuous contact between the respective anti-nuclear constituencies.

But this advantage notwithstanding, the two movements still have much to do by way of expanding their capacity for mass mobilisation. By way of a beginning the National Convention held in November 2000 in New Delhi has given rise to the national-level Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (CNDP). Likewise, in Pakistan, the multi-body Pakistan Peace Coalition has come into existence. Unless these two umbrella organisations create their respective, permanently mobilised, domestic disarmament constituencies, there is little point in cross-border inter-organisational co-operation.

But as the UK and US experience suggests, simply mobilising a mass of people serves no purpose, even in polities that are far more responsive to organised interest groups and electoral lobbies than South Asian states are. An environment of exaggerated threat perception is not conducive to responsive politics. As a result of the inability to command politics, the UK and US movements could do little to promote détente, let alone deter deployment. In a sense they were dropouts from politics. In the vast South Asian landscape, politics is the only truly mass medium and instrumentality. While independent sectional groups are essential to constrain the sectarian tendencies of political parties, they are by themselves incapable of mobilising the critical mass to inhibit trigger-happy technocrats.

In Pakistan, the anti-nuclear movement has to go one step further and invent a new mass politics, since to begin with there is currently very little independent politics, and to the extent that there is such a thing, it is constituted by the remains of the erstwhile major parties, all of which have in the past displayed a taste for making domestic politics an extension of bilateral geo-politics.

But the most important contribution of the western peace movements, and the one that is least applauded in the scramble to detect tangible achievements, is that it raised the ethical threshold of nuclear use, in an age that abandoned all ethics in the accumulation armament surpluses. The Western movement engineered a moral atmosphere against actual use in a nuclear balance built on overloaded offensive capacity set to go off at a moments notice. A subcontinental movement that can raise the ethical threshold to the same level and combine with a broad spectrum of political parties, will perhaps, achieve by way of nonnuclear deterrence, what five decades of activism and energy could not achieve in the Cold War.

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