A Disarmament Adequate To Our Times
By T. K. Mahadevan
The supreme tragedy of our time is that we are trying to fit old, habitual solutions to a problem of epic proportions, the like of which man had not faced since he first took to a gregarious life on earth. We have lost, or perhaps never achieved, the capacity for epic thinking. We seem unable to accustom ourselves to the bizarre challenges that face us. The revolutions in science have given us the power of quick and disastrous invention but not the power of dauntless thinking. Our machines increasingly resemble men and imitate their subtle ways - but alas, how near we ourselves are to the condition of a robot, tottering along set grooves of thought and action, afraid to venture out into new and unknown ways, and pathetically suspicious of anything that might upset our accustomed ways and valuations.
Disarmament is not a new problem. In the sense of a penal destruction or reduction of the armament of a defeated country, disarmament is perhaps as old as war itself. In the sense of a reduction and limitation of national armament by general international agreement -what now mostly goes by the vogue-word of Arms Control - it was first discussed in The Hague Conference of 1899 and is thus virtually a product of the twentieth century. In the more comprehensive sense of an abolition of all armament - the only sense that can have any meaning to us in the thermonuclear age - disarmament came into the arena of international discussion only after the Great War and the founding of the League of Nations, and even then only in a lackadaisical, half-hearted way. It took Hitler, the World War and Hiroshima for nations to think of disarmament seriously.
Issues of Disarmament Today
But the disarmament issue that faces us today is of an entirely different complexion and magnitude. We have no longer the luxury of time at our disposal to weigh the pros and cons and to go into the political niceties of the available traditional approaches to disarmament. Failure to achieve a quick solution can have only one relentless result - disaster. The extraordinary urgency of our present situation is not one that could be argued about. Men who ought to know have told us in unmistakable terms what the consequences of our folly could be. Herman Kahn has categorically asserted that “one must eventually introduce a major change in the situation or expect to get into a war anyway”. For, as he rightly argues, “it is most unlikely that the world can live with an uncontrolled arms race lasting for several decades”. A recent report of the National Planning Association of America has this alarming conclusion: “Not only does the danger of war remain a possibility, but the probability totaled over time increases, becoming a certainty if sufficient time elapses without succeeding in finding alternatives.”
What major change have we introduced into the present situation of bewilderment and drift.” What alternatives have we found? None whatsoever. We are victims of our own clichés. We are a race of bewildered, impotent men trying to fit disarmament, in its nuclear overtones, into our frozen, pre-nuclear stereotypes and being rather dismayed at the result. For though it looks like an old problem, disarmament as we know it today is, in fact, a stark new problem and it can only be solved in a stark new way. Our crisis is thus essentially psychological, a crisis of failure to break away from habits of thought which have no relevance to the problems of our time. To ascribe it to the rapid advances in weapons technology or the misuse of scientific knowledge is to misunderstand the true implications of our problem.
We are living in fantastic times - let us face this fact - and only an act or acts of fantastic courage and daring can deflect us from the path of certain disaster. This is no time for lukewarm attitudes or a gradualist, empirical approach. Nor for leisurely feeling our way, one little step at a time. This is the time for a bold, reckless leap - even a leap into the unknown. This is the time for a revolution in our thinking - for an agonizing reappraisal of our basic concepts of peace and human brotherhood. This, in short, is the time for a new realism in international relations.
I believe that this realism is most in evidence in Gandhi’s hitherto unheeded call for unilateral disarmament. In our current phantasmagoria of the megaton bomb, the Polaris missile and mega-death, the only step that makes any coherent sense is for each nation, big or small, nuclear or non-nuclear, to take the lone decision of scrapping its own armoury all on its own without waiting for others to make a start. A negotiated disarmament is a political fiction. We shall await till doomsday - and how near doomsday is! - if we hope that agreement will be reached on all the minutiae that have kept disarmament negotiations going endlessly for the best part of two generations.
Even a cursory study of the history of disarmament will reveal that every so-called disarmament proposal is a veiled move in the game of international hide-and-seek, an essential factor in the strategy of power. It would be the height of naiveté to imagine that the ever-new disarmament proposals that often catch the headlines have been motivated by a genuine desire for peace. On the contrary, every one of them can be shown to be a sinister move to gain a strategic advantage over one’s opponent. This. being the case, it will be unpardonable folly to expect anything to come out of the present merry-go-round of disarmament talks. Multilateral disarmament is a contradiction in terms. Someone must lay down arms first. Disarmament will never get a start except unilaterally. It must begin with some one nation, big or small. There is no other way.
The general objection against unilateral disarmament is that it is quixotic, unrealistic, utopian. Maybe it is all these. But are we not living in a very quixotic age? What is realistic about the nightmare world that is unraveled, say, in the yearly proceedings of the Pugwash Conference? And why should any man be apologetic about being utopian when the only alternative to a Utopia is the extinction of man?
But, fortunately, unilateral disarmament is neither quixotic nor utopian. In fact, if there are any lessons to be learnt from the woeful history of disarmament, the unilateral approach is the only probable and realistic way to achieve disarmament in our time. For consider the conflict between national security and disarmament. Every government gives first precedence to its own security and will in no case agree to any change in the existing armament balance unless it is satisfied that such change will not endanger its security. Add to this the axiom that one nation’s security is another’s insecurity, and we at once see what a hopeless mess we would land ourselves in if we believed in the myth of negotiated, multilateral disarmament. The security demands of even two nations are hard to reconcile, not to speak of the security needs, whether real or imagined, of the five score nations which sit around the United Nations table.
No, we cannot have national security and international disarmament at one and the same time. One will eventually have to be sacrificed to the other - and which shall that one be? The answer is clear. Unless we are either insane or inhuman, or both, there is no doubt we shall all opt for the saving of humanity and human civilization rather than the illusory pursuit of our own, private, national safety.
In the final analysis, the case for unilateral disarmament stands or falls by how we answer two simple questions: (a) Is there any known method, other than a unilateral act of courage and sacrifice, by which the besetting fear of one nation for another can be rooted out? (b) Even if unilateral disarmament were to fail, will the failure be as catastrophic to humanity as the continuance of the arms race which is implicit in the never-ending process of negotiated disarmament?
We can improve upon many things that Gandhi taught us - his religion and philosophy, even his economics and politics - but we cannot improve upon this central theme-song of his whole life, this concept of daring, unilateral action – satyagraha - which finds its culmination in his call for unilateral disarmament. Many of us swear by satyagraha and some of its more fashionable modern variants, little realizing that unilateral disarmament - the phrase we shun like the plague - is nothing other than satyagraha in its international dimension. We are universal in our condemnation of armaments but we are blind to the logical corollary of our condemnation - that if we are genuine in our belief that all arms are evil the honest thing for us to do is to strip ourselves of the evil at once, regardless of whether others do likewise.
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