Almost forty years ago, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who was then serving as Pakistan's Foreign Minister, famously declared "even if Pakistanis have to eat grass we will make the bomb." Since then, India and Pakistan have fought two conventional wars and now have nuclear weapons poised to complete the short five-minute arc to the other's national capital.
President George W. Bush called both leaders Wednesday night to urge them to back down, warning, "armed conflict will do nothing to improve the lives of the people of India and Pakistan. It will instead blot the future of both nations."
Bush is also dispatching carrots and sticks to the region. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Armitage bears carrots for both sides, including debt relief, additional international aid, and enticements for Pakistan to become "a respected member of the international community," in the words of a senior State Department official. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is carrying the stick, in the form of a Pentagon report documenting the likelihood that 12 million people could be killed and an additional 6 million injured in the nuclear exchange.
But, as the din of nuclear saber rattling grows more deafening, the role played by the United States and other western countries in building up India and Pakistan's nuclear capability is all but being ignored.
Last week the Group of 8 leading industrialized nations, known as the G-8, issued a statement calling on India and Pakistan to "work with the international community to ensure that there will be a diplomatic solution to the current crisis." While the statement is strongly worded and compelling, it is weakened by the fact that of the eight signatories, six including the U.S., Russia, Canada, Germany, Britain and France, helped provide India and Pakistan with the raw materials and technical know-how to build their nuclear weapons.
India's first nuclear device used plutonium supplied by a Canadian research reactor and extracted in a re-processing plant built with U.S. assistance. Germany supplied the tritium, beryllium, heavy water plants and re-processing components. Pakistan utilized Canadian and Belgian heavy water plants, German uranium enrichment technology, reprocessing technology from France and the UK and an U.S. origin research reactor as it developed its first nuclear weapons. In fact, Pakistan's F-16s, supplied by the Reagan administration, remain their most reliable nuclear delivery vehicle.
As crucial as raw nuclear materials, technical assistance and delivery vehicles are to the two countries' nuclear weapons development programs, perhaps even more influential is the continued emphasis placed on nuclear weapons by Western nations. Both India and Pakistan are very effected by the Cold War equation that nuclear weapons are indicative of world leadership and essential to entering the "first world." The fact that since the end of the Cold War no nuclear power has relinquished nuclear weapons has had a profound impact on both nations. As M. V. Ramana and A. H. Nayyar, physicists and peace activists from India and Pakistan respectively, wrote in a recent Scientific American article, "the continued reliance of the United States and Russia on thousands of nuclear weapons on hair trigger alert only adds to the perceived need for nuclear arsenals in India and Pakistan."
India and Pakistan's game of nuclear chicken sheds light on the United States' own nuclear lawlessness. The fact that the United States has withdrawn from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, is pursuing new, more useable "mini" nuclear weapons, and is committed to deploying a multi-tiered ballistic missile defense are not lost on Indian and Pakistani leaders who hear President Bush and his envoys calling for nuclear restraint and a return to diplomacy. For the United States to help diffuse the nuclear threat in South Asia, it must first examine the ways in which it has contributed to building and encouraging that threat.
Frida Berrigan is a Research Associate at the Arms Trade Resource Center, a project of the World Policy Institute. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on international assistance to the Indian and Pakistani nuclear programs, please see the Nuclear Control Institute's
1998 factsheet http://www.nci.org/f/for-asst.htm