Sunday, October 15, 2006

Pyongyang Joins the Party

Imagine an exclusive executive club where a select group of powerful influential persons are members. These members enjoy rights denied to ordinary denizens and have a constitution which seeks to ensure that the club remains as elitist as possible. Their actions are highly questionable but they shroud it in morally hypocritical arguments of the greater good and preach the same to non-members. Persons who try to intrude are penalized and given stiff punishments so that the club maintains its status quo position. But there are always crazy plebeians who still manage to gatecrash bypassing the laws, something that represents North Korea’s entry into the World Nuclear Club.

North Korea had always been threatening to go the nuclear way (it withdrew from the NPT in 2003) and it was a more a question of when rather than if and so it did not surprise anybody except for a few news channels who had to feign surprise to give it that breaking news effect. For a number of years, the nuclear world was dominated by five countries who entrusted to themselves the task of protecting their existence and by extension, the world, till one fine day, two countries decided to no longer play ball. Pokharan and Chagai Hills pushed India and Pakistan into this club and now, North Korea has followed suit. Now there are renewed fears that Iran too would test the bomb.

Pyongyang going nuclear reveals a few things. It diminishes China’s assumed ability to leverage its relationship with North Korea and also undermines President Bush’s attempts to threaten it in terms of embargos. For countries to condemn it (including India) saying it threatens regional stability is a classic case of hypocrisy. But then, that’s a naive argument in the world of real politicking.

Even a militarily-passive Japan, which has always used the example of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to convey the sense of loss and destruction that nuclear weapons can bring, is under the US nuclear umbrella and so they can preach peace. Non-proliferation as a tool has not worked for more than half a century and is not expected to bring in any new dividends. What is required is a clear elimination of nuclear weapons and not reduction.

I was amongst the many jubilant voices in India when we went ahead with our Pokharan spectacle. There was this jingoistic feeling of having cocked a snook at the world-the Yankees could not stop us and now we are the super powers etc. But now, as the adrenaline levels have gone down and “Shining India” is almost a dirty word, I wonder what we achieved by going nuclear, except maybe an exaggerated sense of national pride for a few days (Of course, with exceptions like my Andhraite neighbour who was unhappy that the tests would lead to the cancellation of his son’s US visa). Does the theory of nuclear deterrence actually work? I don’t think so. The tests gave us a false sense of pride, a feeling that we are major players in the world and that the world will now listen to us. It probably does listen in many forums but that is due to our market size rather than our arsenals (Poor Shashi Tharoor is a casualty of that belief).

For a country like North Korea that stands almost at the bottom of the bottom of the economic pyramid in the world and has scores of people dying due to natural and state-sponsored schemes of disaster, you would wonder what nuclear weapons could do. Our knowledge about the country is quite limited because North Korea does not publish statistics (their own economists have no idea what their inflation rate is) except that it has the fifth largest military in the world, with the largest percentage of citizens enlisted. Maybe it gives them a sense of pride but since media is not given a proper access to the public domain; we do not even know that.

At a larger level, Kim Jong - II will leave North Korea a poorer country where hunger is fed by patriotic talk and Western phobias. Do the people have a future to look towards? A country that is so poor but believes that nuclearization will help it. Maybe, but from whom?? Let me quote the words of The XIVth Dalai Lama here which conveys all this and so much more:

Peace, in the sense of the absence of war, is of little value to someone who is dying of hunger or cold. It will not remove the pain of torture inflicted on a prisoner of conscience. It does not comfort those who have lost their loved ones in floods caused by senseless deforestation in a neighboring country. Peace can only last where human rights are respected, where people are fed, and where individuals and nations are free.

Such countries will probably perish under the might of their own contradictions and burdens in the long run. As Amartya Sen discusses in his article on Democracy, a democratic state with a free press ushers in a certain amount of administerial responsibility because of the constant focus of the media on it. He successfully argues how a democratic state can ensure that there are no famines and droughts, something that Pyongyang needs to realize.

Nuclearization is a greater political decision than a military one. For starters, we do not even know whether they actually conducted the test successfully, as being alleged in certain quarters. Suddenly, there are talks of South Korea and Japan reconsidering their proliferation options because they feel threatened in the presence of a nuclear neighbour. The nuclear issue has also whipped up a great deal of passion in the forthcoming US Senate polls with the Democrats alleging that the North Korea going nuclear is an example of the failure of Bush’s much vaunted diplomacy.

The Americans have threatened to impose fresh sanctions but will it help? History shows it has never done anyone any good except possibly companies that act as intermediaries (Food for Oil Program types). The recent Iraq experience has shown them to be a total failure but then since constructive diplomacy has never been the most common means of working, the same old strategy will continue. In retrospect, we know that Iraq did not have the alleged nuclear stockpiles but if it had, would history have been different? Did this influence North Korea when it decided to go nuclear?

What drives nations to nuclearization? Maybe a false sense of machismo- the chest beating and fist thumping variety where you cannot offer anything to your people and so camouflage it using false arguments of self-pride, deterrence and defence. Ask the average North Korean the significance of this (assuming one day you can see him expressing his views) and his blank face would convey all that peace activists have been trying to bandy about. Do I sound naive or foolish when I advocate peace? Maybe but I believe that the world can only survive with the philosophy of peace and not the politics of non-deterrence ballistics.

I end my post by quoting the renowned French philosopher Albert Camus’s famous words that rings so true:

Peace is the only battle worth waging

1 comment:

  1. I disagree with what the Dalai Lama had to offer. His is a world that never existed, and shall never come to exist in the centuries to come. Preaching non-violence is a good thing to do, but not at the cost of national security. Having said that, I do not discount the fact that to become a nuclear state, nations will have to invest a lot…there will be a section of people that will undergo immense pain and suffering…there were will be people who will perhaps pay for it with their lives.

    India’s nuclear programme started way long during the times of Ms Indira Gandhi. That time an American spy had claimed that, “India has at least one nuclear weapon”. Were we very prosperous then to have afforded nuclear power plants & the huge amount of monies that were being invested for developing our own nuclear weapon? Security concern is not the only reason perhaps, that explains the development and subsequent testing of such weapons…it is also done with a view to maintain balance of power in the region.

    And world peace can never happen when out of two parties one is stronger & dominant. One cannot preach equality with a jaundiced eye. One cannot talk about world peace when one cannot ensure that it will not infiltrate the borders of another nation. The US of A happen to be one such preacher. With his huge arsenal base, and robust economic structure, preaching comes naturally to them.

    I see the developments in North Korea much similar to what Ms Madhabi Puri-Buch had to say at our ICICI Bank RAOG meet at Goa in 2004. She said that every organization requires re-engineering. And she related the same with a story where she talked about three motor drivers.

    About the third motor driver she said that the driver will run at a great speed and then suddenly stop and look back say its time to build the wall for the rest who are coming behind. I find this story very similar to what is happening in North Korea. It is a re-engineering phase for them. This phase will continue for a few decades more, and when they would have structured themselves, their nation building phase will start, which will perhaps look at revolutionizing their economic status. With change in leadership, I am sure good things will happen to North Korea as well. A very classic example of how change in leadership can help a society is that of Mr. Buddhadeb Bhattacharya. He comes from the same state, from where Mr Jyoti Basu comes; he belongs to the same party as well. But what Mr Basu could not do in 20 years, he did it in 5-6 years. At the time of Mr Basu, all foreign companies were going away, there was no investment, and people were moving away from West Bengal, because there were no jobs…but look at the same Bengal today! I will not say that Bengal has become job hunters paradise today, but I am sure it is on its way there. Invests are increasing, almost all the IT companies are opening big centers there, shopping malls, better infrastructure…though I agree, that most of the good things have been restricted to Kolkata only, but things are surely a hundred times better that what it used to be during Mr Basu’s times.

    Going forward I see a dramatic change in the approach of the North Koreans towards their country and society. They have strived to become a nuclear state, they are there now, and its time her leaders pay back by making North Korea a more robust economy, a country where its young generation do not have to venture out of their country to hunt for jobs, a country where people can have access to the very basic necessities of food, shelter & clothing, a nation where all the people can walk & talk freely, a nation where its people will not live in fear, but hold their head high in honour. I am believe with a change in leadership, all this can happen, more importantly, should happen.