End nuclear muscle-flexing
Voices must be raised to end the nuclear arms race as vital resources are being diverted from preliminary development.
At the recently held campaigners meet of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate organisation, at Geneva – ICAN (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons), has appealed voraciously to world leaders to attend to the wake-up call of the impending threat that nuclear weapons pose today. Their very presence is of grave danger to the existence of life on earth. Extensive studies done in this regard have shown that even a limited nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan using 100 Hiroshima-sized nuclear bombs would put two billion people at risk. But, a larger nuclear exchange between the US and Russia could lead to the extinction of all forms of life from earth.
The contention that nuclear weapons serve as deterrence is totally unfounded. Peace cannot be sustained on the basis of fear; peace is long-lasting only when it is based on a common ground of mutual respect and trust. Despite the presence of nuclear weapons and the threat of their use, peace is a far cry and conflicts are raging abundantly in several parts of the world. These low-level skirmishes could, at any time, escalate into larger conflicts, which could, in turn, develop into a nuclear exchange.
Even if nuclear weapons are not used, their manufacture, possession, putting them on alert and maintenance cost huge amounts, which could have otherwise been used for people's well-being. The nuclear-armed states spend close to USD 300 million (Rs 2000 crores) every day on the upkeep of nuclear forces. The global annual expenditure on nuclear arms is around USD 105 billion or USD 12 million an hour. As per the World Bank estimates, only half of the annual global expenditure would be sufficient to meet the requirements of the poverty alleviation programme. As the fifth largest spender on arms, with an annual outlay of nearly USD 60 billion, India is presently the biggest buyer of arms with 12 per cent share in the total global arms imports. The situation in Pakistan is dangerously similar. Whereas the central government's spending on its arms budget is 1.62 per cent of the GDP, the amount spent on health is only a meagre 0.29 per cent. Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has said clearly, "The world is over-armed and peace is underfunded. The end of the Cold War had led the world to expect a massive peace dividend. Yet, there are 20,000 nuclear weapons around the world. Many of them are on a hair trigger alert, threatening our own survival."
According to the government's own data, 30 per cent of our population continues to reside below the poverty line; which means that about 42 crore people of the country are devoid of basic food requirements. As a result, as per the report of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UNO, there are 194.6 million people in India who are undernourished. India accounts for 22 per cent of the 6.3 million deaths every year globally, in the under-five-years of age category. Similarly, about 45,000 mothers die every year due to causes related to childbirth. This accounts for 17 per cent of such deaths globally.
With the government's definition of below poverty line (BPL) being an income of Rs 32 per day in rural and Rs 47 per day in urban areas, it can be easily deciphered how it is impossible for the average population of the country to get access to a balanced meal with sufficient nutrients at the present rate of inflation.
Our people need money, which should be equitably distributed for them to live a decent respectable life. But, we too are trapped in the unnecessary arms race. This wasteful expenditure, if utilised for welfare, can easily fulfil the basic needs for food, shelter, education and healthcare of our people.
It is, therefore, high-time that these concerns are highlighted and actively integrated into public discourse.
(The author is senior vice President Indian Doctors for Peace and Development. The views expressed are strictly personal)