Missing the Forest for the Trees

One last spat I followed this summer spurred in the wake of one of Pakistan’s big days – May 28, called ‘Youm-i-Takbeer’ – literal meaning ‘the day of greatness’. Each year this day is celebrated to commemorate Pakistan’s nuclear tests conducted fifteen years ago. With the return of PML-N to power, the day apparently received more attention than it did in the past few years. Ceremonies were held, slogans chanted, and promises made yet again.

However, in some pockets, the frustration of an energy deprived nation got the better of the nuclear zeal. As a result, at least some of the media discussions were skeptical as opposed to celebratory. Amateurs questioned the significance of nuclear weapons for a state that is suffering from the worst shortfall of energy – resulting in long hours of electricity load-shedding, never-ending queues at CNG stations and an impending water shortage. This is certainly not a new debate. It appears very close to the classical ‘Guns Vs. Butter.’ To say the least, it is a reminder that deprivation takes its toll, it hurts consensus. The more the people feel deprived of electricity, of fuel and food, of rights and justice, the less they care about the symbols – material and mythical.

But, for the nuclear enthusiasts this skepticism is as disconcerting as always. Some of them conveniently dismiss the angry voices by leveling allegations of foreign-funded, purposefully concocted propaganda to mislead the nation. Others respond with a counter narrative. They claim, probably rightly so, that there is no causal relationship between power outages and nuclear weapons. Also, that nuclear weapons are neither meant to nor can they make up for poor governance; they are meant for deterrence.

Both arguments make complete sense if seen in isolation. But the point that we often appear to ignore is does deterrence work in isolation? Aren’t we forgetting the fundamentals here? Certainly, nuclear weapons and energy are not directly related, nevertheless a state’s energy level is an indicator of its economic health. And if we haven’t forgotten the fundamentals, we would be able to make out why that matters. Have I mentioned “Economy of War”, by the way?

As much as I understand, the anger of the skeptics in this situation, is less about nuclear weapons per se, and more about flaunting them. For are they really worth flaunting, and that too under circumstances of the day? On this, many of my friends would say, as they always do, “Yes, these circumstances make them all the more important. For these help make up for at least some of our weaknesses and keep the enemy at a distance.” And I would say, as I always do, this is highly debatable! From where I see, it looks like we are missing the forest for the trees.

Posted in , Energy, India, Nuclear, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan

Sadia Tasleem

Sadia Tasleem is a lecturer at Quaid-i-Azam University’s Department of Defense and Strategic Studies in Islamabad, Pakistan. As a Robin Copeland Memorial Fellow for Nonproliferation from 2014 to 2015, she undertook a research project entitled “Creating a Constituency for Unilateral Nuclear Arms Control in Pakistan.” Also, as a core member of the Program on Strategic Stability Evaluation (POSSE) she has done extensive research on various aspects of Strategic Stability, Nuclear Learning and the implications of Knowledge Diffusion with a focus on Pakistan. Previously, she worked as a senior research scholar at the Institute for Strategic Studies, Research and Analysis at the National Defense University; a research associate at the International Islamic University; and a lecturer at the Department of International Relations, National University of Modern Languages in Islamabad.

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2 thoughts on “Missing the Forest for the Trees

  1. Great post, Sadie! You right so well, as always. :-)

    I find it paradoxically heartening to see that Pakistan leaves the energy part out completely in its nuclear debate. India, on the other hand, has always incorporated and entrenched it, and used it to justify massive expenditures in its nuclear program. Owing to the non-separation between its civil and military nuclear programs, it has been difficult to determine when research was aiding defense and when civilian needs. All in all, it has complicated the nuclear debate in India, and probably even made it more nuanced. While the tussle has not been a straightforward one, i.e. “Gun Vs Butter,” but in the final analysis, it has contributed neither to butter nor to gun. I am not sure which one is the lesser evil.

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