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Volume XLIV, No.50

Technology Cannot Be Monopolised

by Bharat Jhunjhunwala

Tuesday 24 April 2007


Iran has restarted its nuclear enrichment programme. This follows the nuclear explosions made by India, Pakistan and North Korea. These steps have been taken within the confines of international law. India and Pakistan had not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). North Korea had legally pulled out of the same in 2003. Iran has the right to develop nuclear energy sources within the NPT. Yet the prominent world powers have imposed sanctions against India, Pakistan and North Korea after their nuclear explosions and are slated to do so against Iran presently.

The sanctions imposed against India failed. Rather, they had the salutary effect of prompting India to further intensify efforts at indigenous development of technologies which the developed nations were unwilling to part with such as the supercomputer. Sanctions are in place against North Korea for more than a decade; yet that country has managed to make a nuclear explosion. The proposed sanctions against Iran are likely to have a similar ending because the nature of technology is like the water of the sea. Just as water spreads evenly across all oceans easily so also technology spreads across all lands given time. The Big Five do not appear to understand this reality and are trying to artificially restrict the spread of technology and to keep their exclusive control over the same intact.

Kalam, in reply to a question on the impact of economic sanctions, says:
I believe that Indians have always been able to successfully combat such challenges. Earlier, the West had imposed sanctions on us in the fields of nuclear and missile technology. That taught us to become self-reliant in these areas and today we do not need their help at all.
In his book Vision 2020, President Abdul Kalam writes:

Just as there has been a racial element in human history, it would appear that this element is entering into the technological arena too. Developed nations feel that only they are capable of developing certain types of aerospace, missile and nuclear technology. But we should ignore this and go ahead with our technology development.

Kalam goes on to explain that Indian space and defence technology is not only substantially indigenous and quite up to the world standards but in some areas it is better even than what the West has. Our missile Prithvi, he says, “is comparable to any world class missile system, and probably is the best of its class in payload capability”. This Vision applies equally to Pakistan, North Korea and Iran. In the result it is unlikely that sanctions will prevent the spread of nuclear technology.

The impact of sanctions depends upon the mental make-up of the target country. The child who gets beaten up by colleagues at school can respond by sitting glum at home or by joining a wrestling school. Likewise, the impact of sanctions depends upon the mental make-up of the leaders of the targeted country. A 1992 document of the United States Government’s General Accounting Office titled “Economic Sanctions: Effectiveness as Tools of Foreign Policy” explains this succinctly:

Cultural characteristics of the target nation and international publicity can either enhance or weaken the effect of the measures. If the target nation has a strong shame and honour code, that is, if “saving face” is important—or if sanctions receive substantial publicity—sanctions may create a backlash in the target nation, particularly if harsh, comprehensive measures are used from the onset of sanctions.

The document goes on to point out that sanctions do not ruin the target nation’s economy. Over time, the targeted country can develop new suppliers and markets, although at increased cost. For example, South Africa’s apartheid regime, the target of multilateral boycotts, replaced most lost exports in two years, but incurred losses from discounts on the prices of its products and the added transportation costs required to develop alternative markets. Sanctions can also raise costs for the sanctioning nation, including lost profits of forgone exports and financial transactions and additional expenses from purchasing more expensive imports from alternative suppliers. This last point is important in the context of India. The United States needs Indian software programmers and outsourcing outfits to remain competitive in the global economy. It seems this was one reason for the lifting of sanctions against India.

The upshot is that the sanctions against North Korea and Iran are likely to fail just as they did against India. The problem is likely to become more difficult in the coming times. S. Nihal Singh reports that, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, 49 countries, other than the present nine, have the capacity to make the bomb. Brazil, South Africa and Japan have declared intention of reviving their nuclear programmes. The logical result of the tendency of technology to spread spontaneously and the ineffectiveness of sanctions is that nuclear technology will spread inevitably.

The nuclear powers had promised to work towards comprehensive nuclear disarmament while making the NPT. There has been little progress in that direction. That is to be expected because global disarmament would require the establishment of a world government in some form and that would dilute the powers of the five permanent members of the Security Council. The Big Five will thus want to perpetuate the present arrangement to hold on to their status notwithstanding its failure to prevent non-proliferation.

The present world political and economic structure rests on the police authority of the Security Council dominated by the United States. It suits these powers that the present unjust economic structure— wherein twenty per cent of the people of the Western countries consume eighty per cent of the world resources—is perpetuated. China’s role in this matter is a matter of separate discussion. This consumption of world resources by the Western countries rests, in large measure, on their control of advanced economic and military technologies. This control will certainly weaken as demonstrated by the explosions made by India, Pakistan and North Korea. Thus the present unjust world economic order will not sustain. We must think of establishing a new world order.

India has two paths open to her. It can try to join the Big Five as envisaged under the nuclear agreement made with the United States. It can join in perpetuating the injustice perpetrated by the Big Five by becoming the sixth member of this unholy alliance. The alternative is to challenge the present unjust world order. India can call a meeting of the nuclear powers and nuclear aspirants excluding the Big Five. This group should propose new rules for the control and management of nuclear technologies and negotiate with the Big Five as a group. The success of nuclear non-proliferation will rest ultimately on convincing the aspirants that one is more secure by not making the bomb. Every household does not keep a gun for its safety because the costs of keeping a gun are more than the cost of obtaining the same security from the police. Likewise, we have to provide the nuclear aspirants security and access to technologies such that it is beneficial for them not to make the bomb.

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