issue 211 - September 1990
It was all peace and love when Bush and Gorbachev recently
agreed to throw away more of their missiles. But how does the
East-West thaw look in India where the prospect of war looms
larger daily? Kishu Singh and Dilip Bobb report.
They may be doing the lambada in Lithuania and boogieing in Berlin but there is a flip side to the democratization disc. Hallucinogenic euphoria greeted the 'If-it's-Tuesday-it-must-be-Romania' revolution that brought the walls of Eastern Europe tumbling down. But the fall-out effect on the Third World may well not be so pretty.
The past two decades have already seen a massive militarization of the developing world. Weaponry is as addictive as cocaine for Third World generals, dictators or over-ambitious politicians. The global trade in major weapons was worth approximately $31 billion last year with the Third World being the major customer. And of the 32 armed conflicts recorded in 1989 (ranging from Lebanon to Sikh terrorism in India and Tamil guerillas in Sri Lanka). almost all were located in Third World countries.
Now, with the Cold War in decline, the temptation for Northern governments to dump excess military hardware on the South has increased alarmingly. So, equally, has the temptation for Third World countries to boost their military muscle by buying up the goodies available at bargain-basement prices.
For them, detente between the military alliances of West and East could prove to be something of an arms windfall. Western Europe, with its highly developed weapons industry, will be increasingly wooing customers in the Third World. It would certainly rather do that than fire the hundreds of thousands currently employed in the arms business in countries like Sweden. Britain. Germany, Italy, Switzerland. France and Spain.
Meanwhile, the rise in tension in some regions of the Third World can only accelerate that process. Nothing illustrates this better than the current state of affairs between India and Pakistan. The two prickly neighbours have fought three wars since they gained independence in 1947 and are currently a hair-trigger away from indulging in a fourth, this one more mutually destructive than ever before.
The superpowers have inevitably been sucked into this conflict. The US has always viewed Pakistan as a front-line strategic ally, more so in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Similarly, the traditionally chummy relations between India and the Soviet Union have made it impossible for Moscow to remain neutral. So Pakistan has received sophisticated military hardware from the US while India has enjoyed similar access to the latest Soviet military technology.
The superpowers may now have new priorities. But it is probably too late. Both Pakistan and India have raised the stakes over Kashmir to such dangerous levels that, even if war itself is averted, the threat of war has spurred both sides into ensuring their quivers are over-stocked. The result: a panicked arms-buying spree that shows no sign of slowing down despite the fact that both countries are strapped for cash.
Islamabad's current arms shopping list includes 50 Mirage Ills in mint condition from Australia at the throwaway price of one million dollars each; 18 F-16 aircraft and 775 armoured personnel carriers from the US; and both M-9 ballistic missiles and F-7 combat aircraft from China. Furthermore, a high-powered delegation recently visited the UK and Spain to discuss purchase of frontline NATO weaponry on favourable (credit) terms.
New Delhi is not exactly sitting on its hands (or arms). Indian armed forces have indulged in a flurry of panic purchases ranging from tank track links to the 60,000 130 mm shells it has just bought from Eastern Europe with hard currency. It is also shopping for AA7 missiles for its frontline Mig-29 combat aircraft, and there are signs that New Delhi may add a second Soviet-built nuclear submarine to its already formidable naval fleet. The one already in service is nuclear powered but carries conventional warheads.
Most alarming, however, is the fact that both countries have nuclear capabilities. India has already staged a peaceful explosion of an atomic bomb and Pakistan, by its own admission, has a nuclear bomb in the basement. Both countries could produce a nuclear arsenal in a matter of weeks, if not days, were the situation to get out of control.
Recently, the New York Times revealed that US spy satellites had picked up disturbing signals that Islamabad was setting its nuclear option in motion. Pakistan Air Force F-16s had been photographed with nuclear bomb racks. There were also satellite pictures of military convoys heading out from Pakistan's nuclear facility at Kahuta to forward bases located near the Indian border.
Both sides have developed missiles and launchers capable of reaching long-distance targets and carrying nuclear warheads. Since neither Islamabad nor New Delhi are signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), there is little the major powers can do to avert the danger of a conventional conflict snowballing into a nuclear one.
That is a scenario which could as well apply to other tension-filled regions of the developing world. Thus, while the North basks under the pleasing prospect of peace and perestroika. for areas of the Third World, the outcome could well be perishtroika.
Kishu Singh is a Professor in International Affairs in New Delhi. She specializes in defence matters. Dilip Bobb writes for the monthly magazine, India Today.
Will you walk a little faster said the Eagle to the Bear
There's a Toyota right behind me and it drives me to despair.
See how eagerly our Levis and MacDonalds all advance
They are geared up for a killing - will you come and join the dance?
Will you, won't you, will you, won't you, will you join the dance?
Will you, won't you, will you, won't you, won't you join the dance?
'You really have no notion how delightful it will be
When there's nothing left but NATO subs beneath the seven seas.
But the Bear replied, 'Too far, too far,' and gave a look askance
Said it thanked the Eagle kindly, but it would not join the dance.
Would not, could not, would not, could not, would not join the dance.
Would not, could not, would not, could not, could not join the dance
'What matters it how far you go', his feathery friend replied
'There are many shores to plunder upon the Third World side.
Send them all your toxic rubbish and grab your only chance.
Turn not fair, beloved Bear - just come and join the dance.
Will you, won't you, will you, won't you, will you join the dance?
Will you, won't you, will you, won't you, won't you join the dance?'
(With profound apologies to Lewis Carroll)