DREAMING OF A SAFER WORLD FOR OUR
CHILDREN, SANTA BARBARA STYLE: INDIAN ELECTIONS AND NUKES
By Tom Plate
May 18, 2004
SANTA BARBARA, Calif.--- Fantasy
versus reality: While more than 100,000 American and other troops were
splashing around Iraq ostensibly to create a democracy out of this war-torn
nation of 25 million mainly Sunni and Shia Muslims, a Hindu-Muslim nation of
more than 1 billion people was actually committing democracy.
More than 380 million people voted
in the recent nationwide elections in India, results counted and made known
within days. This was a different story from the Philippines, where they are
still counting, or even from the United States, where they counted,
recounted, then tabulated chads and still the country had to appeal to the
high court to figure out who won. And then the prize went to the candidate
with fewer votes.
Say what you want about India --
but it’s the world’s largest, truly practicing and thus the most wonderfully
This recent reminder was not lost
on the delegates who attended the conference of the Nuclear Age Peace
Foundation last weekend (15 May) in this gorgeous California-coast resort
town. This little-publicized retreat attracted some of the liveliest
political minds, from Daniel Ellsberg, of Pentagon Papers fame, to Richard
Falk, a leading intellectual proponent of international law as a global
order-shaping force, to internationally known disarmament and environmental
advocate Helen Caldicott.
These delegates, having all but
despaired (for the time being, anyway) that the world’s second-largest
democracy would do the right thing on issues of war and peace, began to hope
that maybe the South Asian country of Gandhi and Nehru might have a few
precedent-setting answers for the world.
They imagined a reverse
nuclear-arms race, in which those who have nuclear arsenals would
voluntarily relinquish them, thus triggering an historic armaments
down-spiral and shaming the two big boys into doing the same. For the United
States and Russia together possess something like 97 percent of the world’s
nuclear weapons, and together could blow the earth to smithereens, and
probably set the moon off course as well.
Both India and Pakistan have bombs,
though many fewer. Pakistan has nuclearized because India has done so; India
keeps them because Pakistan has them. “But what if those who hold them
decided not to keep them?” wondered Ellsberg, the ever-feisty
septuagenarian. “Maybe India and Pakistan might lead the way?”
As preposterous as that might seem,
there’s a better chance of that happening than Washington and Moscow leading
(which they should have done after the fall of the Berlin Wall). But should
Pakistan and India lead the way to a safer, more secure world by negotiating
bilateral nuclear disarmament, not only would South Asia and by extension
the world be more secure, the entire region would start to become less
It’s now, as a totality, the
world’s single poorest region (mainly defined by India, Pakistan, Bangladesh
and Sri Lanka). Some half a billion there live below the poverty level. More
children are out of school there than in the rest of the world; so, not
surprisingly, the region is home to half the globe’s illiterates. More than
337 million lack safe drinking water; 400 million go hungry every day; 830
million lack rudimentary sanitation.
“So what do you do?” decried
delegate Adil Najam, professor of international negotiation at the famed
Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. “You go get
yourselves a nuclear arsenal.”
Pakistan doesn’t have enough money
to feed, clothe and educate its people, but it somehow can find the dough to
buy three submarines from France. India has a titanic rural poverty problem
which the victorious Congress Party skillfully exploited. But it still
finds money for multibillion-dollar fighter aircraft.
America’s so-called hard-headed
realists, from the “vulcans” so well depicted in James Mann’s new book of
that name, to the neo-cons in the current administration, will laugh and
say: What were these “Santa Barbarians” smoking? And, predictably, the first
wave of Western media headlines about the Indian election has focused on
shocks to the Indian stock market: Leftist votes in parliament will probably
be needed to enable Gandhi to form a governing coalition.
But the hysteria will pass. What’s
unclear is whether the current age’s obsession with seeking security through
arms instead of education, justice and economic stability --- will pass
How about a nice whiff of optimism
from Prof. Falk: “What occurs in history is often what we cannot foresee.
Let us prefer the politics of impossibility as opposed to the conventional
wisdom of politics as the art of the possible.”
Imagine a world in which almost all
children went to bed properly fed and woke up to be properly educated.
Oh, go ahead, let yourself go,
Santa Barbara style: Just imagine.