IT should be a potentially life-saving event when big and small nations could meet in Glasgow to try to stall the march to mass extinction, by intervening against the senseless abuse of nature and the climate crisis thus incurred. There is a joined-at-the-hip twin of the evil extinction threatening us with a more abrupt end. The threat of mass annihilation with nuclear weapons has been seldom discussed by powers that own them and also threaten to use them.
Absurdly enough, nations gloat about their nuclear status and reward those who helped them get there by describing this or that scientist as father of the nation’s bomb. Albert Einstein said though that had he known his theories would lead to the making of the terrifying bomb, he would have been a locksmith.
For this reason and more it looked encouraging for the world at large that the British prime minister pressed hard for urgent measures to pause global warming. On the other hand, regrettably, he has been negating the promise by needling China and Russia — occasionally with the help of a solitary warship at others by exhorting Nato to inch menacingly closer to Russia’s borders. Does he not know this makes the world vulnerable to a tragic possibility? Remember the meteor hit that brought the era of dinosaurs to an abrupt end on earth? Life then had to crawl back through the fungus that alone survived the meteor strike, rather reminiscent of the black fungus that defied treatment in Indian hospitals recently. Do we want the earth to return to the era of fungus?
Read more: ‘Black fungus’: how dangerous is it?
With these questions in mind, Boris Johnson’s appeal to save the world while preparing it unwittingly for another way of mass extinction bears a resemblance to the tragic story in a Gulzar movie. A soldier faces death penalty for killing his wife in rage and gets critically shot during an attempt to escape his arrest. A team of doctors brings him back to life, but they have to hand him back to the prison officials for imminent execution. Save the world from global warming to destroy it with a nuclear winter?
Idolisation of nuclear arms appears to be of a piece with arrogance that comes with ignorance.
Will there be the feared destructive war in the future is an absurd question to pose. We are assured that nuclear wars will never happen because of the inbuilt fear of self-harm in the bargain. But we are also told menacingly of how close the world came to an end in the Kennedy-Khrushchev spat, and how such and such Soviet officer on duty luckily doubled-guessed a false nuclear alarm about a US missile attack, and that saved the world. In South Asia, embassies and UN offices had evacuated their non-essential staff with their families from Delhi during the May 2002 India-Pakistan stand-off. The belligerent rhetoric and remotely observed military movements had prompted fears of a nuclear conflict erupting anytime. Indian and Pakistani officials have since denied there was such a danger but they haven’t given convincing evidence this was so.
Read more: World must wake up to India’s nuke threat, says PM
Idolisation of nuclear weapons in some countries appears to be of a piece with arrogance that comes with ignorance. Deniers of the mask to fight the Covid outbreak or those who are in denial of climate change are more likely to be insensitive to the nuclear threat we all face. It’s a surmise worth testing that those who refuse to wear the mask are likely to be people who care little about the nuclear debate. The Johnson-Biden genus is in all probability a rarity that strives to save the earth but can be perceived as unwittingly prepared to destroy it. They are not alone in this absurd contrariness.
There is good news in an incremental sort of way as Alice Slater, a highly regarded anti-nuclear weapons activist, reminded us in an online discussion on the fate of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), the first legally binding international pact signed by 86 countries, which became effective in January this year.
“Even though 60 per cent of the world’s population live in countries that have not welcomed the new law that made nuclear weapons illegal, majorities of citizens in most of those countries that have not signed the TPNW where polling has been done, support the negotiated abolition of nuclear weapons. So the new treaty is popular in many of those countries.”
Slater believes canvassing is helping. “The more we can remind people that nuclear weapons are now illegal in every way, the better our chances will be to create a rising tide of revulsion at current nuclear policies, expenditures, and proliferation and for creating a growing public demand for negotiations to abolish them!”
As far as nuclear nationalism is concerned, a hallmark of recent entrants to the weapons status (albeit acquired illegally), a stark insight presented by a former Israeli intelligence analyst handling Iran should deflate the egos. Danny Citrinowicz said President Biden had only one option on the Iran nuclear deal and Israel would have to learn to live with it — an agreement without any fresh conditions for Iran. An Israeli attempt to militarily destroy the facilities would be unsuccessful, because Iran would build everything back again, and possibly at double the speed. The message was that you cannot destroy the knowledge about nuclear weapons even if you assassinate a few leading scientists. The knowledge is universally widespread. What the remarks by Citrinowicz imply is that after Oppenheimer’s original work every other nation’s “father of the bomb” has in all probability only copied from the original work to flaunt their adored capabilities. India and Pakistan have their nuclear heroes, for example, but is there also a hero among them who has invented a new aircraft or a ship? One flexes its sinews with Chinese and American planes, and the other proclaims national triumph with French and Russian aircraft. Time to invent an original plan to save the world.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.
Published in Dawn, November 9th, 2021