Two nuclear-armed countries stand on the brink of war and the world seems paralyzed as it watches events unfolding in what seems like slow motion. It is a war that could easily escalate into a nuclear holocaust taking millions or tens of millions of lives, and virtually nothing is being done to end the standoff. The US and the UK have advised their citizens to leave the region and the UN is pulling out the families of UN workers in the region, but the UN Security Council has not yet even put the matter on its agenda let alone put forward any constructive solution.
The US has sent its Secretary of Defense to the region, but has lifted sanctions on the sale of military equipment to both countries that it imposed after they conducted nuclear tests in 1998. At the same time, the US continues to demonstrate its own reliance on nuclear weaponry, announcing on June 1st that it will resume production of plutonium “pits” used to trigger nuclear warheads.
Here is what Indian novelist Arundhati Roy has to say about the situation:
“Terrorists have the power to trigger nuclear war. Non-violence is treated with contempt. Displacement, dispossession, starvation, poverty, disease, these are all just funny comic strip items now. Meanwhile, emissaries of the coalition against terror come and go preaching restraint. Tony Blair arrives to preach peace and on the side, to sell weapons to both India and Pakistan. The last question every visiting journalist asks me: ‘Are you writing another book?’
“That question mocks me. Another book? Right now when it looks as though all the music, the art, the architecture, the literature, the whole of human civilization means nothing to the monsters who run the world. What kind of book should I write? For now, just for now, for just a while pointlessness is my biggest enemy. That’s what nuclear bombs do, whether they’re used or not. They violate everything that is humane, they alter the meaning of life.
“Why do we tolerate them? Why do we tolerate the men who use nuclear weapons to blackmail the entire human race?”
Arundhati Roy is absolutely right. It is because we tolerate these men and their dangerous, inhumane and genocidal policies whether they be in the US, Russia, UK, France, China, Israel, India or Pakistan — that nuclear war is possible and increasingly likely.
But what should we do now, while these men remain in control of the future of the fate of the people of India, Pakistan and the rest of the world? Here are a few modest suggestions:
Call for the UN Security Council to take charge of the situation as a matter of highest priority, require Indian and Pakistani forces to stand down their nuclear forces, move back from their front line positions, interpose UN Peacekeeping forces between them and require mediated talks between the leaders of the two countries.
Call for the permanent members of the UN Security Council (US, Russia, UK, France and China) to immediately cancel the sale and delivery of all military equipment to both India and Pakistan.
To deal with the continuing dangers of nuclear war, so easy to visualize in the India-Pakistan standoff, we should also call for all nuclear weapons states to immediately commence good faith negotiations for the elimination of all nuclear weapons as required by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the International Court of Justice.
Forty years ago, the world stood by helplessly as the US and former Soviet Union almost stumbled into nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis. We obviously failed to learn the lesson then that nuclear weapons are too dangerous to be left in the hands of any military force. Now we run the risk that acts of terrorists in the Kashmir conflict could trigger a war in South Asia that could quickly escalate to nuclear war. Similar conditions exist in the Middle East.
The potential for war in South Asia must be defused now before it erupts into large-scale conflict that could go nuclear. But it is not enough to only defuse the present crisis. The world must also become deadly serious about putting away forever these dangerous instruments of annihilation and genocide, before these instruments become seriously and massively deadly in wars that no one can truly desire or in the hands of terrorists.
*David Krieger is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.