Nuclear weapons

I am writing this apropos Rajasekaran's letter `Scientists against nuclear weapons', (Curr. Sci., 1998, 75, 000). While sharing Rajasekaran's concern about the issues raised by nuclear weapons, I would like to point out that when one talks about moral responsibility one is face to face with the ancient problem of values in the world of fact, and of how to prioritize values when the need arises.

Rajasekaran refers to Einstein. Einstein is, however, a good example of how an outstanding personality did not hold on to his values in an absolutist or fundamentalist fashion, and was not averse to prioritizing them. Up to the advent of Nazi power in Germany, Einstein was, as he called himself, `a militant pacifist'. He was opposed to war as a means of resolving conflicts, and as such a member of several international war resistance movements; he was opposed to military preparedness and compulsory military service, and supported conscientious objection to it. The seizure of power by the Nazis in the heart of Europe, caused Einstein to abandon his support of war resistance and he began to advocate rearmament in the West a radical departure from his previous views which appeared to him inescapable in the face of the mortal danger confronting the world.   is one justified in advising a Frenchman or a Belgian to refuse military service in the face of German rearmament?' he asked. Also, - so long as Germany persists in rearming and systematically doctrinating its citizens in preparation for a war of revenge, the nations of Western Europe depend, unfortunately, on military defence. Indeed, I will go so far as to assert that if they are prudent, they will not wait unarmed, to be attacked. .. they must be adequately prepared' .

For his advocacy of the necessity of military preparedness, Einstein had to face severe attacks from pacifist friends. But Einstein had the moral strength to reverse himself in view of compelling circumstances. However, he never failed to distinguish between strategy and principle. As a matter of principle, he never wavered in his profound abhorrence of war, nor in his conviction that only the creation of a supranational organization would safeguard the peace of the world.

Einstein's role in persuading President Roosevelt, by a letter in 1939, to initiate a programme on atomic bombs, is well-known. Again, the spectre of atomic weapons being first developed and manufactured by Nazi Germany prompted him to take this step. He does not seem to have expressed regrets for this.

Coming nearer home, India for the last fifty years, has taken a large number of initiatives aimed at nuclear disarmament. They have been ignored or rebuffed by the five nuclear-weapon States. The nuclear weapons States have built up huge stockpiles of nuclear weapons, which, even after the reductions contemplated under START-II, will amount to about 20,000 warheads. They retain their Cold War `weapons of last resort' doctrine that allows the first use of nuclear weapons if deemed necessary to cope with non-nuclear attacks on themselves or their allies, or to safeguard their vital interests anywhere. As recently as June-July 1998, when the statutes of the International Criminal Court were being framed, they opposed India's proposal that the use of nuclear weapons be made a war-crime, and threatened to boycott a court which had such a mandate. They have helped, connived at and encouraged nuclear weapon and missile proliferation in India's neighbourhood. They have refused to agree to any discussion of nuclear disarmament at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) at Geneva, and ignored the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice in this regard. A move towards nuclear weapon-free world has yet to be accepted by them.

In this situation, what is a country like India to do? An individual may face death bravely for his absolute principles. Can a country, or those who have the responsibility for its security, take a purely moralist stand, on behalf of its people, and future generations? That is where the exercise of the nuclear option comes in.

India should continue in its efforts towards a nuclear-weapon-free world with undiminished vigour, while maintaining a minimal deterrence.

1.See, for example, Einstein on Peace (eds Otto Nathan and Heinz Norden), Schocken Books, New York, 1968, pp. 230-231.

2.For more details, see Udgaonkar, B. M., India's Nuclear Capability, her Security Concerns and Recent Tests (to be published)


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