Nepali Times
Here And There
Fanning the Unforgettable Fire.


The world took a frightening leap backwards this past week with the news that the United States is examining a nuclear weapons policy that identifies seven countries that might expect to be "nuked" if the situation demanded it.

The list even includes friends and trading partners Russia and China, as well as George Bush's "axis of evil"-Iran, Iraq and North Korea. Syria and Libya round off the litany of potential future Hiroshimas. Shall we deem this sheer madness or mere prudence in a post-11 September age? Perhaps it's the work of unreconstructed cold war dinosaurs, once again in charge at Jurassic Park and all the more horrifying if that indeed is the case.

Consider, for a moment, the implications. The United States is the wealthiest, most influential and mightiest society that has ever existed. Its culture and economic system dominate much of the planet. The conventional military technology at the beck and call of the president can project massive, unstoppable force across continents with extreme precision.

Other countries either cower or bury their objections amid hopes of trade benefits or aid largesse later on. Only terrorists dare to take on America directly. Never mind that anyone mad and fanatical enough to kill himself for a cause is hardly likely to worry about being the target of an atomic bomb.

The Bush administration is not only resurrecting nuclear destruction as a defence option, it wants to refine such weapons for use against non-nuclear enemies. A classified report obtained by the Los Angeles Times says this new nuclear strategy and weaponry might be used in three circumstances: to reply to a strike against America by nuclear, chemical or biological weapons; to destroy a target impregnable to conventional attack, or in surprising military circumstances. In other words, if al-Qaeda fighters keep refusing to come out of those caves, the president can order a nuclear strike on Tora Bora.

There are many of us who were misled into thinking that America was now a high priest of non-proliferation, that with Russia it was preparing huge and meaningful cuts in weapons of mass destruction. This belief was bolstered when Washington reacted with fury to Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests.

Sanctions, condemnation and diplomatic pressure had little impact in Delhi or Islamabad but a principle was being enacted. The fact that Washington allowed Israel to build, develop and test nuclear weapons was disquieting but little could be done about such an important pillar of American domestic politics. In 1991, South Africa said it had voluntarily dismantled its nuclear weapons programme-to date, the only state to do so. American pressure was very much an influence.

Now, where's the case to be made to India or Pakistan or any other country that wants to add flashy, new nukes to its arsenal of weapons. Non-proliferation has gone out the window as an American doctrine, or at least the moral argument for it. Why should the Indians listen to a country that's busy drawing up plans to do what Delhi says it won't do-strike first with nuclear weapons, or use them against a non-nuclear nation.

Why shouldn't India now disregard its policy of "no first use"? Similarly, why shouldn't Pakistan-vastly outgunned and overwhelmed by Indian conventional forces-go on a bomb building spree, copying the Americans in producing battlefield nuclear warheads, longer range missiles, dirty bombs even, explosive devices that spread radioactive material from a conventional blast without the need for a fission explosion.

As for Iraq, North Korea and other inhabitants of the axis of evil, will they really stop developing weapons of mass destruction, given the threat to turn them into the world's next targets for nuclear weapons? I think not. Mad regimes lead by the likes of Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Il thrive on being Washington's demon of the month. Both have shown that they care little for their own citizens, and much for the fear and hatred that their abhorrent behaviour inspires in western capitals. Replacing Osama Bin Laden on George W Bush's hate list is akin to a celebrity sports endorsement in the eyes of such reprehensible characters.

Captain Robert Lewis, co-pilot of the US Air Force B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, wrote in his logbook on 6 August, 1945. It was a simple sentence, one that resonates through history. "Oh my god, what have we done?" The unforgettable fire was unleashed upon the world, and the current American government is now fanning the flames.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)