I'm firmly in the anti-nuclear camp. I favor complete abolition of nuclear weapons, even though the immediate effect of such abolition would be to increase the already massive military dominance of the United States and thus, potentially, to extend even further its ability to attack other countries.
That's partly because the risks of existing stocks of nuclear weapons and of proliferation of weapons into the wrong hands are so great as to outweigh other concerns, but also because I can't imagine nuclear abolition without fundamental changes in the international political culture that militate against U.S. military interventions.
I was very much against India's development and then "testing" of nuclear weapons in the late 1990's. Unlike Iran and North Korea currently, India could claim no genuine need for nuclear weapons. It has never been under threat of attack by the United States, nor, in recent decades, by any regional powers. China has never evinced expansionist aims or any desire to influence India's politics. Pakistan's nuclear announcement was necessitated by India's, not the other way around.
And development of nuclear weapons, even if they are not meant to be used, has pernicious domestic effects far beyond the diversion of resources necessary to make them. They include a cultural valorization of things military and creation of an institutional base for greater military influence over political affairs. These effects are hard to notice in the United States, which has developed glorification of the military and civilian political deference to military demands independently right along with nuclear weapons for the past 60 years. But in a country like India, with a rather different tradition, the effect has been noticeable and not pleasant.
The recent U.S.-India nuclear arms deal, timed to coincide with Bush's high-profile visit to India, is thus of great concern. It does not bother me so much that he has recognized India's status as effectively a nuclear power and thus outside the bounds of the Nuclear nonproliferation Treaty (which India never signed). This stance is infinitely preferable to the hypocritical hectoring of past U.S. administrations, which have always acted as if the provisions of the NPT apply to everyone else (even non-signatories) but not to them. The de facto two-tiered structure created by the NPT is illegitimate and unsustainable for the long-term. None of the nuclear powers seems interested in obeying Article VI of the NPT, which calls on them to make progressive arms reductions, eventually disarming completely. The United States doesn't even allow IAEA inspections.
No, my concerns are different. One, obviously, is that increased use of fissile material, whether in India's notoriously unsafe nuclear reactors, or to start the next stage of its absurd nuclear arms race with Pakistan, is potentially disastrous.
Another is that this is another major step in India's strategic realignment as an open U.S. ally. This realignment is particularly tragic since U.S. imperial legitimacy is now at a low ebb. The drive to push through increasingly protectionist and extortionate "free trade" agreements that further institutionalize North-South inequality is faltering badly. Crippling debt service requirements are recognized as illegitimate. South America is alive with people's movements challenging U.S. hegemony and neoliberal capitalism -- and still taking state power.
The illegal invasion of Iraq, torture at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and Bagram, and war crimes in Iraq make it harder and harder for the United States to lecture the rest of the world - except, somehow, the Indian government, which sat quietly when Bush called on them to join his supposed crusade for democracy and to open up to his favorite multinational corporations.
Reacting to this, New York Times faux journalist Elizabeth Bumiller writes that Bush's visit abroad, especially to India, provided a welcome respite from the criticism and opposition he faces at home.
That's something new, that the nearly universally hated Bush would be more comfortable abroad. What's wrong with this picture? It's not the Indian people. 250,000 protested Bush's appearance in Bombay and 100,000 in Delhi. The protests were not only carried out by Muslims, as some news reports have insinuated, but also by the left parties, which have large constituencies. It's not even the politicians. MPs in the Lok Sabha, India's equivalent of the House of Commons, protested Bush's appearance as well; he was unable to address them directly, as Clinton had earlier.
It's simply the Indian government, tragically out of touch with the concerns of the Indian people and with the zeitgeist, while the rest of the world is slowly waking up and realizing it has the power to oppose the empire.
Rahul Mahajan teaches at New York University. He has been to Iraq twice and reported from Fallujah during the siege in April. He maintains a blog Empire Notes
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