A Gandhian Solution To ‘Nuclearisation’

peace doves

In a world defined by competition over cooperation, and the acquisition of arms prioritised over the pursuit of diplomacy, the threat of a nuclear weapon being used is higher than it has been in generations. Promising national security, the modern state has come to regard nuclear weapons as an irresistible force for peace strategic stability and a more tranquil future. They are regarded as the most powerful and destructive weapons held in the arsenals of modern state capable of inflicting a remarkable degree of overkill. It is in this context that various forms of  less militant response, including the methods of conflict resolution adopted by India’s nationalist leader, Mohandas Gandhi, deserves a second look.

While Gandhi did not directly address the issue of nuclear weapons, but his philosophy of nonviolence is cited as a model for achieving disarmament and peaceful conflict resolution. He believed that violence only begets more violence, and that the only way to break the cycle of aggression was to refuse to engage in it.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Argentina and Brazil, which happen to be neighbours, engaged in a nuclear arms race, as both countries sought to establish themselves as regional powers in Latin America. The development of nuclear weapons was seen as a way to demonstrate military superiority and deter potential threats. With a long-standing diplomatic rivalry,  they were now bent upon developing sensitive nuclear technology, including enriching and reprocessing uranium, and building ballistic missiles. Making matters worse, military regimes governed both countries at the time, and this work took place with no civilian scrutiny. National security doctrines in both countries identified each other as a major potential security threat, with the armed forces having contingency plans in place in the event of war.

Then things took a different turn altogether, starting in the 1980s, the two countries set out on an ambitious path of nuclear cooperation. In the process, they imposed new restraints on their nuclear programs and rewrote national security doctrines to eliminate the possibility of war. To everyone’s surprise, they also built a mechanism of mutual nuclear inspections that was unprecedented anywhere. In 1994, Argentina and Brazil joined the Tlatelolco Treaty that established Latin America and the Caribbean as a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone. Shortly thereafter, they both joined the Non-Proliferation Treaty, definitively establishing themselves as non-nuclear actors — and, above all, peaceful neighbors. But how did this happen?

(i) in November 1983, under the military government rule- when  the Argentine government announced its mastery of the technology to enrich  uranium it caught Brazilian authorities by surprise, and they doubled down on their effort to develop their uranium-enrichment capacity

(ii) A month after, civilian rule returned to Argentina and the new president
understood the risk of Brazil and Argentina becoming ensnared in  a nuclear arms race and when civilian rule also returned to Brazil in 1985, the two  democratically elected leaders began working quickly to build trust.  Additional gestures of trust were made by the Argentine leader by inviting the Brazilian  President to the Argentine nuclear facility.

(iii) The spirit of reciprocity required the same courtesy to be extended vice-versa,  which was indeed done when the Argentine president visited Brazilian nuclear  facility in 1986. Working on this Gandhian Principle of – negotiation and  persuasion- Argentine and Brazilian officials were able to establish a high degree of empathy and trust at the highest levels. They could have led to a serious  deterioration in the relationship, but ended up leading to greater nuclear cooperation instead.

In a recent interview- Jose Sarney- the then president of Brazil took pride in how the relationship he achieved with Alfonsin- the then president of Argentina- helped avert a bigger crisis and establish a trusting relationship.

The India-Pakistan conflict is a long-standing issue with deep-rooted historical, political, and cultural differences. While there is no easy solution to this complex issue, a Gandhian approach can provide some insights into how the conflict can be resolved Gandhi believed in the power of dialogue and negotiation to resolve conflicts. India and Pakistan need to engage in sustained and sincere dialogue to resolve their differences. This dialogue should involve not just political leaders, but also civil society groups, academics, and other stakeholders. The pertinent question is when Brazil and Argentina can do it, why can India and Pakistan not do it? The earlier the two countries realize the futility of being engaged in a nuclear arms race, the better it would be for the common citizens of both countries as well as entire South Asia. In fact, India and Pakistan should take the initiative to create a South Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zone just as one was created in Latin America and Caribbean.

Another Gandhian principle is the power of non-violent resistance (ahimsa) as a means to bring about change. Both India and Pakistan should avoid any kind of violence or aggression towards each other and focus on peaceful means to resolve their issues.

Gandhi emphasized the importance of empathy and understanding towards those with whom we have a conflict. India and Pakistan need to understand each other’s perspectives and concerns, and show empathy towards each other’s struggles.

India and Pakistan need to take steps to build mutual trust, such as cultural exchanges, people-to-people contacts, and economic cooperation.

The conflicts can be resolved when both sides identify their common goals and work together towards that. India and Pakistan should identify common goals, such as regional stability, economic development, and peace, and work towards achieving them together.

This application could be seen in the Panchsheel, or the Five Principles of peaceful co-existence, first formally enunciated in the agreement on trade and intercourse between the Tibet region of China and India on April 29, 1954- which consists of mutual non-aggression, mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and co-operation for mutual benefit and peaceful co-existence, which is considered to be an example of the Gandhian principles in international relations.

Shivendra Pandey is a 3rd year BA-LLB student at NALSAR, Hyderabad. E-mail id: [email protected]


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