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India's first nuclear test, carried out in May 1974, was code named the 'Smiling Buddha'. After its success, Indian nuclear scientist Kalam (a Tamil and a Muslim), reportedly told India's Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, that the Buddha had smiled.
Here, it may be useful to look back a few decades.
Prior to World War I, it was said that the sun never set on the global British Empire and that Britannia ruled the waves. Great Britain was the World's super power. But, two World Wars contributed to the eclipse of Great Britain, and the eventual emergence in 1945 of a bi polar world with the U.S. and the Soviet Union as the two super powers.
The United Nations Charter signed in San Francisco in June 1945, was structured to give the victors of World War II (United States, Soviet Union, Great Britain, China, and France) a permanent place in the Security Council, each with the right to a veto. It is perhaps, no accident that eventually, these five states also became nuclear powers.
Member states of the United Nations often proclaim their faith in democracy. They even call for democracy within armed resistance movements which cannot possibly put in place institutional structures for elections, whilst being engaged in battle to secure stable boundaries for a state-to-be. But democracy finds little encouragement within the structure of the United Nations itself - a structure which continues to perpetuate the control of its affairs by the five victors of World War II. It is now more than fifty years since the end of World War II and, unsurprisingly, the system that the world was persuaded to accept in 1945, is increasingly at odds with political reality.
It is not simply that with the collapse of the Berlin wall, the old style division between the First World and the Second World, together with the resulting 'alignments' and 'non-alignments', has become less meaningful. It is not simply that the collapse of the bi polar world structure led to a uni polar one with the United States playing the role of the sole super power. History teaches that a uni polar world will eventually give birth to a multi polar one. And, today, within the womb of the uni polar world, a multi polar world has begun to take shape.
Germany and Japan (the 'defeated' in World II) have emerged as major economic powers. France, since Charles de Gaulle, has not been slow to assert its own sovereignty. China perceives itself as a world power. The Islamic world is giving expression to a togetherness rooted in its past. Great Britain would like to retain its identity, extend its influence in the English speaking world, and 'contribute' by drawing on its reservoir of experience and expertise gathered by having 'managed' a global Empire for a century and more. Again, countries which have gained independence from colonial rule are asserting their right to participate and be involved in decisions taken in the international arena - decisions, which in the end, affect the lives of their own citizens.
And India with a population of more than a billion, has called for a proportionate voice in world affairs. Indian Foreign Secretary J.N.Dixit delivering a lecture on September 16 1993, at the influential German Society for Foreign Policy made it clear that India wants a seat as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. He said:
In its official submission to the UN Secretary General in 1993, India proposed that the Security Council be expanded from its current five permanent and 10 non permanent members to 10 or 11 permanent members and 12 or 14 non permanent members.
It is against this backdrop that the international response to India's nuclear tests may be usefully considered. The position taken by each country, although couched in the language of 'principle' is more often than not, a reflection of that which it perceives to be its own 'permanent interest'.
The US, given its self perception as the 'super power' has been quick to respond with 'sanctions' - an urgency which, for instance, it did not feel in the case of sanctions against the South African apartheid regime which had imprisoned President Nelson Mandela for more than twenty years.
The US points out that 146 countries have signed up to the non proliferation treaty and insists that India should 'put the brakes on its slide away from the international mainstream'. But, the US itself has not yet ratified the treaty. Furthermore, it has carried out over a thousand nuclear tests as against the five carried out by India, and at the latest count had a stockpile of over 8000 nuclear devices - enough to destroy the earth and all its inhabitants, several times over.
France and Russia have deplored the Indian nuclear tests but have stopped short of outright condemnation and have dragged their feet at imposing sanctions. They are not in the business of giving an entirely free hand to the US to set the agenda in world affairs.
Pakistan and China have been vociferous in their condemnation of India. Both Pakistan and China are India's immediate neighbours. At the same time, each of them have close ties with the United States. The closeness of US-Pakistan military links was strengthened during the Soviet - Afghanistan conflict. In the case of China, the intimacy of the relationship is shown by an example of 'co-operation' in 1979, given by President Carter's former National Security Adviser Brzezinski. He writes:
When China invaded Vietnam in February 1979 - a twenty day invasion to 'teach Vietnam a lesson', the US stance in the international arena helped to stall any adverse resolution by the Security Council on the Chinese invasion.
Again, unlike China and Pakistan, Sri Lanka, another neighbour of India, was quick to declare that it had no objection to India becoming a nuclear power.
Soon after the Indian General elections (in February 1998) which saw the election of supporters of the Tamil Eelam struggle, such as the PMK and Gopalaswamy's MDMK to the Lok Sabha, the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister visited New Delhi. On his return, the Sri Lanka newspapers proclaimed that the Indian Prime Minister had assured Sri Lanka 'not to worry about Tamil Nadu.' That, ofcourse left open the question as to what it was that Sri Lanka should worry about.
Sri Lanka would not have been unaware that the central premise of Indian foreign policy during the past several decades has been directed to excluding extra regional powers from the Indian region. It was a policy that was promoted at the 1975 non aligned conference in Colombo, by Sri Lanka Prime Minister, Srimavo Bandaranaike when she proposed the Indian Ocean Peace Zone.
It was the election of the West leaning Sri Lanka Prime Minister J.R.Jayawardene in 1977, and the building of the Voice of America installations in the island, which led India's Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to give covert assistance to the Tamil resistance movement during the period upto 1984. These same considerations also influenced the actions of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi during the period after the assassination of Indira Gandhi. The Exchange of Letters annexed to the 1987 Indo Sri Lanka Accord made this explicit.. Clause 2 of the letter dated 29 July 1987 from the Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to Sri Lanka President J.R.Jayawardene said:
In 1998, under President Chandrika Kumaratunga's dispensation, Sri Lanka was, no doubt, concerned to secure that there was no repetition of the events prior to 1987. Jayanath Rajapakse, International Affairs Adviser to President Chandrika Kumaratunga declared in a recent article:
The decision by India, on 11 June 1998 to extend the ban on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, for a further period, on the ground that LTTE was a threat to the unity and integrity of India, must have been received with some satisfaction by Sri Lanka.
The US whilst, ofcourse, understanding the special reasons which may have influenced Sri Lanka's decision to support India, may nevertheless have been concerned at the effect that such an open declaration by a signatory to the non proliferation treaty, may have on other signatories. This may explain the somewhat circumspect, but pointedly public, US response:
Sri Lanka's private response to the American Ambassador, would no doubt have taken into account Sri Lanka's structural dependence on foreign aid. The Paris Aid Consortium (including Japan), at its meeting held on 27 May 1998, did pledge 780 million dollars of aid to Sri Lanka, though the Western donors trimmed their contribution by 10%.
Here, it may be useful to remember the words of Sardar K.M.Pannikar who served as, Indian Ambassador to China from 1948 to 1952:
The world wide web of power balances is an increasingly complex one. President Carter's National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote perceptively in 1983::
It is not clear whether Brzezinski saw the irony in his statement that as the peoples of the third world become 'increasingly literate' and 'politically awakened' they will be 'more and more susceptible to demagogic mobilisation'. Surely, literacy and political awakening will render people not more but less susceptible to demagogy.
Be that as it may, Brzezinski's perception that the political awakening of the so called 'third world' (in reality, the 'majority world') was a threat to US 'national security' though understandable, also reflects a failure by the US to develop a principle centred approach to international relations - a principle centred approach which seeks genuine win-win answers to conflicts between the US and other states, instead of the US being seen as attempting to impose its own diktat on the world.
In the context of an 'increasingly literate' and 'politically awakened' multi polar world, the old techniques of 'balance of power', 'divide and rule' and 'my enemy's neighbour is my friend' may be seen for what they are - techniques designed simply to out wit your opponent. And, they may not work. No one has a monopoly of wit. Again, as Sardar K.M.Pannikar, has pointed out:
The danger is that in a nuclear world, a miscalculation may result in mutually assured destruction. It was Arthur Koestler who remarked in the 1950s that if he was asked: what was the most important date in history, he would say without hesitation that it was the day when the Hiroshima bomb was dropped, because on that day mankind had for the first time acquired the know-how to annihilate the entirety of the human species.
The old style 'command - control' method of leadership will yield diminishing returns in an increasingly 'politically awakened' world. Hierarchical authority may secure a measure of compliance in the short term but it will fail to foster genuine commitment and stability. Perhaps, the time has come for the US government, as a government of a country that is regarded as the home of private enterprise, to itself start practising some of the leadership methods which the likes of Stephen Covey and Peter Senge have advocated to successful Fortune 500 companies:
There may be a need to see the bigger picture. If the US aspires to world leadership, it will need to recognise that leadership will not come simply by the display of military might and economic power. It is the marriage of power with principle that will secure leadership. A leader needs to secure the trust and respect of those whom he seeks to lead - trust in his integrity and respect for the skills that he is able to bring to the task of achieving shared goals. This is true of individuals. It is true of business organisations. It is also true of countries.
The glaring weakness in the US stand on nuclear non proliferation is that it is not willing to engage in discussions about the reduction of nuclear weapon stockpiles as a part of an agreement on nuclear non-proliferation. It is an approach that says: "We will continue to have, what we have. But no one else shall have, what we have."
The US argument that 'the Indian government at this point appears to care more for narrow political interests, than for its role in the international community." (Rediffusion News Report, 16 May 1998) would have carried more weight, if it was not self evident that the US stand was itself directed to secure that which the US perceives to be its own 'national security' interests.
Nothing is gained by the visceral language that some US commentators have used:
The comments by ex President Carter which appeal to reason and principle deserve the attention of a wider audience.
Again, there are those who take the view that India's nuclear tests moves India away from Gandhi. The logic of such a viewpoint may also lead them to call upon India (with the fourth largest army in the world) to abandon its conventional armed forces as well.
David Landes has analysed the First World's phenomenal wealth and power, in a new book titled 'The Wealth and Poverty of Nations : Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor ' Landes suggests that one of the three main reasons that Europe earned its wealth was that Europeans mastered the power to kill. They learnt about gun powder from Asia - China originally - but they learnt to make it better and their guns fired straighter and farther. Perhaps the time has now come to level the playing field, to right the balance - and at the same time, move towards a world wide reduction in nuclear and conventional weapons of destruction.
India's strength will lie not in the nuclear bomb, but in its peoples
Having said that, New Delhi will need to recognise that, in the end, the strength of India will lie not in the nuclear bomb, but in its peoples. The economy of India will not grow unless the different peoples of India are energised to work together to achieve their shared aspirations. Here, the failure of successive Indian governments to openly recognise that India is a multi-national state, has served to weaken the Indian Union rather than strengthen it. The European Union (established albeit, after two World Wars), may serve as a pointer to that which may have to be achieved in the Indian region in the years to come. There may be a need for India to recognise the force of reason in that which Pramatha Chauduri declared more than 70 years ago:
Nuclear capability will not guarantee unity. The nuclear bomb did not prevent the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the non-nuclear states of Latvia, Estonia and Georgia. Peoples speaking different languages, tracing their roots to different origins, and living in relatively well defined and separate geographical areas, do not easily 'melt'.
A people's struggle for freedom is also a nuclear energy and the Fourth World is a part of today's enduring political reality. India may need to adopt a more 'principle centred' approach towards struggles for self determination in the Indian region. A myopic approach, apart from anything else, may well encourage the very outside 'pressures' which New Delhi seeks to exclude. And, if India can grasp this, then, the Buddha may have cause to truly smile.