Gandhi, Bush, and the Bomb

News Abroad

Dr. Wittner is Professor of History at the State University of New York, Albany. His latest book is Toward Nuclear Abolition: A History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement, 1971 to the Present (Stanford University Press).

On February 24, at a press briefing, White House National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley announced that, when U.S. President George W. Bush travels to India, he will lay a wreath in honor of Mohandas Gandhi.

For those familiar with the cynical gestures of government officials, it might come as no surprise that an American President would attempt to derive whatever public relations benefits he can by linking himself to one of the most revered figures in Indian and world history.

But the level of hypocrisy is heightened when one recalls that Bush is currently one of the world’s leading warmakers and that Gandhi was one of the world’s leading advocates of nonviolence. Furthermore, the American President’s major purpose for traveling to India is to clinch a deal that will provide that nation with additional nuclear technology, thus enabling it to accelerate its development of nuclear weapons.

Gandhi, it should be noted, was not only a keen supporter of substituting nonviolent resistance for war, but a sharp critic of the Bomb. In 1946, he remarked: “I regard the employment of the atom bomb for the wholesale destruction of men, women, and children as the most diabolical use of science.” When he first learned of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Gandhi recalled, he said to himself: “Unless now the world adopts non-violence, it will spell certain suicide.” In 1947, Gandhi argued that “he who invented the atom bomb has committed the gravest sin in the world of science,” concluding once more: “The only weapon that can save the world is non-violence.” The Bomb, he said, “will not be destroyed by counter-bombs.” Indeed, “hatred can be overcome only by love.”

That is certainly an interesting backdrop against which to place President Bush’s plan to provide India with nuclear technology. India is one of only four countries that have refused to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)—a treaty endorsed by 188 nations. Thumbing its nose at the world, India has conducted nuclear tests and has developed what experts believe to be 50 to 100 nuclear weapons. Under the terms of the NPT, the export of nuclear technology is banned to nations that don’t accept international inspections of their nuclear programs. In addition, U.S. law prohibits the transfer of nuclear technology to a country that rejects full international safeguards. U.S. law also bans such technology transfer to a non-NPT country that has conducted nuclear test explosions.

Thus, if the President were to give any weight to Gandhi’s ideas, international treaty obligations, or U.S. law, he would not be working to provide India with the same nuclear-capable technology that he so vigorously condemns in Iran—a country, by the way, that has signed the NPT, has undergone inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and has not conducted any nuclear weapons tests.

There are other reasons to oppose this deal, as well. Although India’s relations with Pakistan are relatively stable at the moment, they might well be very adversely affected by any perception that the Indian government was racing ahead with a buildup of its nuclear arsenal. Furthermore, Pakistan might demand the same nuclear assistance as India. Indeed, if India can simply ignore the NPT and, then, receive nuclear technology from the United States, why should other countries observe its provisions? The Iranians, certainly, will make this point.

At home, the Bush administration’s double standard has not gone unnoticed. In Congress, Representatives Ed Markey (D-MA) and Fred Upton (R-MI) have introduced a bipartisan resolution—H.Con.Res. 318--expressing strong concern about the proposed U.S.-India nuclear deal. Although this resolution affirms humanitarian and scientific support for India, it contends that full civil nuclear cooperation between the two nations poses serious dangers. For example, it points to the possibility that the supply of nuclear fuel to India could free up India’s existing fissile material production, thereby enabling it to be used to expand India’s nuclear weapons arsenal. The resolution also opposes transfer of nuclear technology to any country that is not a party to the NPT and has not accepted full safeguards.

Whatever happens to this resolution, if the Bush administration were to implement its nuclear agreement with the Indian government, it would have to convince Congress to amend U.S. law. And arms control and disarmament groups are determined to prevent that from happening.

Thus, the Bush administration might genuflect to Gandhi in its efforts to arrange a nuclear pact with India, but it is going to have to convince a lot of very skeptical observers before it implements this agreement.

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Vernon Clayson - 3/29/2006

OK, Ms. Kazmier, "Soul force"? "Soul force"!, that will go a long way in stopping bombs and bullets and airplanes from crashing into towers and beheadings. Nonviolence, the world has never known it, the earth was born in violence and all creatures and nature itself continues in that vein. Soul force, indeed.

Lisa Kazmier - 3/6/2006

I don't see that I endorsed Gandhi in some fawning terms like were portayed by someone who frankly sounded like he had a major chip on his shoulder. I only cite my professional credentials when someone attacks me in a way I find offensive. You wanna "bring in on," then do so. Gandhi has good qualities and he has some negative ones (the view of the British should surrender to Hitler and Mussolini is pretty bad), however, I think it is particularly hypocritical, among other things, of a "war president" who makes a nuke deal to visit the grave on the chief advocate of "soul force" and nonviolence. That's it.

Carl Becker - 3/5/2006

"I'm comfortably retired from law." Considering your writing style, poor grammar, and trailer-trash rhetoric, it’s more than likely you retired as the janitor.

Vernon Clayson - 3/4/2006

Wow,Lisa Kazmier, you held up your PhD, something like friars used to hold up a cross to pagans. I suppose I should feel humbled but I'm not looking for work like you were in January of this year, I'm comfortably retired from law. I grant this is a forum for serious discussion; my comments were serious, albeit sarcastic, you might have opened your mind to my viewpoints without concerning yourself that they might invalidate your own. I have arrived at the point where I think that Eastern Hoodoo is as quaint and out of touch as Haitian Voodoo, given time you will come to the same conclusion.

jason ssg - 3/3/2006

Sir, this is a place for educated comments. Also, ad hominem attacks, such as "Apparently you are one of the westerners enthralled by things eastern," "you robes and beads types," and "taking money from your loving western pockets" are simply prohibited in the rules of posting. So far, I'm unsure what your point is, as this last post seems simply a broad non-fact or loosely fact-referential based insult to everything from Washington DC to India to anyone who doesn't despise Ghandi and all who work for peace.

As for they who "preached non-violence but violence followed them as stink follows even the friendliest dog when it is wet"- do those who work for peace gain fame or notoriety during times of peace? When are mankind most tested? Our greatest tests come in our reactions to those who would make war. Individuals like Ghandi did much to rise above the violence of their times, to find alternatives to bloodshed. The inverse of your argument would be that those who preach war bring peace, and this is an obvious fallacy. Osama bin Laden preaches war. George W. Bush preaches war. These men have not created peace. What the article you are responding to is about is Bush's desire to flaunt international treaty and the laws of our own country to assist in the proliferation of materials of mass destruction to those now seen as our allies, such as Iraq was when we gave Saddam Hussein weapons of mass destruction, and the contrast between Ghandi- a man who worked for peace through the use of non-violent means- and our President Bush- who has worked for war and achieved it. We are at war on many fronts, not only with countries, but with ill-defined concepts such as "terror."

This is a very valid contrast to make, as these two individuals are so far apart in ideology.

If you wish to deny these words with reason and knowledge of history and current events, do so. If you feel the need to stoop to baseless insults, this is not the place.

Lisa Kazmier - 3/1/2006

Yeah, geez, what's with the stereotypes and such. I thought this site was read by historians (armchair or professional) and this poster sure don't sound very well informed.

Lisa Kazmier - 3/1/2006

Sorry, no, I'm a British historian. May I ask your excuse?

Lisa Kazmier, PhD

Vernon Clayson - 3/1/2006

I assume, ssg, you are one of those I described as enthralled by the quaint eastern theories and clothing, robes, sandals, etc. Peace, to quote Ambrose Bierce, is merely "the time between wars", that would be, of course, for individual nations, as there is a war going on someplace or other without pause. Quoting Plato, "Only the dead have seen the end of war." A million robed and sandaled Ghandis will come and go and none will see peace in their times. Lunatics may indeed start wars but we will not soon run out of them, your descendants to the end of all life will not see the end of war. Your platitudes, if expressed in class, may briefly sway juveniles but not for long, eventually they will be caught up in the endless disputes over religion, politics and, worst of all, arbitrary national borders. Pakistan and India are separated by a border that no more defines the people involved than does the border between Kansas and Nebraska, tbhey are the same blood and same genes. Yet the Pakistanis and Indians live and die over that arbitrary line mostly because of religious differences. I tired of logic and liberal expression years ago, it does not begin to explain individual actions and choices, mob rule as displayed for the TV cameras seems to be the quiding principle, perhaps because they have the robes, sandals and turbans, so favored by those interested in quaint eastern philosophy and practices.

Rajat Talwar - 3/1/2006


The ignorance here is shown mainly by the NPT supporters who claim that the treaty is "universal" when in fact it is not.

The NPT is basically a nuclear treaty of Versailles imposed by the haves on the have nots. The 5 "recognized" nuclear powers basically made some vague, non timebound statement on disarmament while the have nots were forced to commit to a permanent disavowal on nuclear weapons. Since the NPT, the 5 powers continued to build and enhance their nuclear arsenal and deploy them on non nuclear states' soil in Europe and elsewhere. India was right to not be part of this tow tier apartheid system.

Unless the nuclear powers are forced to face the same threat they pose to others, they will not disarm. The demise of the NPT is good for the world. Those hectoring others while living under a cushy NATO nuclear umbrella must face their comeuppance. The author would do well to fist look at US, British and French arsenals before worrying about India's.


Lawrence S. Wittner - 3/1/2006

To judge from a number of comments sparked by this article, there's a lot of ignorance and thoughtlessness among its readers.

So let me try to get the discussion on a reasonable track. The nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, signed in 1968, is a bargain between the non-nuclear powers (who agreed not to build nuclear weapons) and the nuclear powers (who agreed to eliminate their nuclear arsenals through arms control and disarmament policies). For a time, it worked fairly well. Almost no additional nations became nuclear powers and the nuclear powers substantially cut back their nuclear arsenals and refrained from nuclear war. Recently, though, the Indian government and a few others moved to become nuclear powers and nuclear powers (like the United States) began scrapping nuclear arms control and disarmament policies and treaties. In my view, this flouting of international norms is disgraceful and dangerous, and the world would be a lot safer place if nations got back to the real task at hand: building a nuclear-free world.

James H Dalrymple - 3/1/2006

Bush is a, "complete lunatic beset with an agressive, racist, political ideology" - that is the tragedy.

N. Friedman - 2/28/2006


I do not think the choice is all or none. I think that the reality is closer to all, as in all countries that want to survive will do that which advances that need and, in the end, that is likely to mean the bomb.

On the other hand, the world does itself a favor to delay for as long as possible the bomb from falling into the hands of countries ruled by lunatics or a lunatic political philosophy. Which is to say, it would be a tragedy if Iran obtains the bomb.

It is, on the other hand, no worse that India has the bomb than that the UK has it. Neither India nor the UK, so far as I know, is ruled by complete lunatics beset with an agressive, racist, political ideology.

As for Pakistan... Well, it is a tad too late. As for my view of Pakistan's bomb, see my comments about lunatic countries. I understand that the US used the threat of nuclear war between India and Pakistan to obtain some control over Pakistan's program. Whether or not racist to single out Pakistan, the reality is that the country singles itself out with its nuclear program run by Jihadists and its ISI with a large Jihadist contingent as well.

Lisa Kazmier - 2/28/2006

How can no one have 'em? We can't go back to that, can we? The technology is always going to be available and someone or some nation will have the capacity to make these weapons. In an ideal world, maybe a "lockbox" would be established and only using all members of the Security Council's keys (all not some) would open it. Or maybe the Secretary General has the only single workable key. I think it would be asking too much (unrealistic) to expect nations who have 'em to surrender that ability. Obviously it wasn't good enough for France and Britain to just accept the protection of the US having 'em, so they developed their own. I don't think there's a logical reason. There's an illogical reason: nationalism or pride in one's own place in the world. That's not the same reason the USSR wanted 'em. That is possibly or probably not the same reason nations want them now.

I frankly think Gandhi was right but that doesn't yield an obvious path forward.

Vernon Clayson - 2/27/2006

Nehru influence, as nearly as I can recall, was mostly a really bad jacket in the 1960s. Apparently you are one of the westerners enthralled by things eastern, India is a terrible place, dirty and smelling of curry, still with a barely disquised sect society whose streets are as dangerous as those in Washington, DC. Nothing sells to you robes and beads types better than eastern thought and philosophy, which, by the way, is mostly about taking money from your loving western pockets. You think highly of them which is strange when they are but slightly more than sophisticated Gypsies. The difference seems to be in their dwellings, Indians live in hovels, dozens of them to a hovel, while Gypsies, wait, they do the same so that argument is no good. OK, then, in what stage of societal development would they be if the English hadn't been there, still bathing once a year in a rancid river with the Muslims being the only intellectuals?

Rajat Talwar - 2/27/2006

Simple. Either everyone is free to have it or no one should have it. But this NPT nonsense has only perpetuated a system the so called nonproliferation advocates have wittingly or otherwise perpetuating a system where a select group of nations lecture others on the dangers of nuclear weapons while drawing advantages from posessing them.

If the NPT-5 won't make an honest attempt towards timebound disarmament then let them feel the pain they inflict on others. Maybe they'll learn that way.

Lisa Kazmier - 2/27/2006

I suppose an India independent of the British was all Nehru's doing in your view?

Lisa Kazmier - 2/27/2006

Here's a question, maybe different from Gandhi's but I think one he would appreciate: what advantage is there in having nukes? I think the point is that Gandhi didn't see one but you clearly do.

Then, from your argument of it being racist to support any kind of non-proliferation of nukes, where do you draw the line? Is it okay for the Indians to have them but not Pakistan? Or not Iran? If everyone was convinced it is merely racist to support any brakes on nukes, would there be an end? Or just the end of the world?

Work this out for me since I think any limit on nukes is a good idea.

christopher noel pitts - 2/27/2006

First, I'm guessing that your stance is rather bias. Second, who's isn't? Nuclear weapons are clearly wrong, yet all powers - no, all nations, feel that they must possess enough to act as a deterrent to other nuclear capable nations. It never ends. All previously drafted nuke ban notions do favor whites - the only ones to ever use such weapons. Why not get rid of ours first as a peace gesture? Because we would be attacked, many would say. Still, would China really benefit from our destruction? Really?

Rajat Talwar - 2/27/2006


You may not have a problem because you have the luxury to pontificate to others while sitting in the cozy comfort of a nuclear shield. Most of the European nations that preach the loudest have no problems letting NATO's nuclear warheads being based on their soil. I'm proud of the fact that India refused to be part of this apartheid system and built its own deterrent. The day this benighted house collapses the world will be a better place. The NPT is actually a Selective Proliferation Treaty.

Those that target India while winking at their on nuclear arsenal are nothing but first rate hypocrites.


Vernon Clayson - 2/27/2006

Ghandi was little more than a early day flower child albeit being old, bald, skinny and ill-dressed, what else could he be but non-violent? He and Martin Luther King are both praised way out of proportion to what they actually contributed to society. For some reason, with Ghandi, western society is drawn to the mystique of the east because it seems somehow quirky and the worn out phrases of an idealogue who otherwise had little to offer. Both were short term celebrities who had a little more than the normally alloted 15 minutes of fame but during their lives were more irritant than great philosophers, they preached non-violence but violence followed them as stink follows even the friendliest dog when it is wet. Get over them, that was then, this is now.

Philip B. Plowe - 2/26/2006

While the Non-Proliferation Treaty is not perfect, it is the primary device in place right now to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons technology throughout the world and thereby increasing the chances of a nuclear war. I don't have a problem with saying if you don't have them by now, you can't have them.

Rajat Talwar - 2/26/2006

Dear Sir,

You misrepresent the reality behind the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The NPT actually allows 5 nations to keep and develop nuclear bombs while sanctimoniusly telling the rest of the world that they are not fit to have nuclear weapons. Since these same 5 nations sit in the UN Security Council, it is no wonder that India seeks to get to the same level of global power.

As long as folks like you support the hypocritical NPT regime and its racist dogma, no one shall take you seriously. A nuclear weapon in the hands of a brown man is worse than that in a European's hands?

Why should China get to make more bombs and also benefit from civil nuclear trade while India be denied the same benefits?

End this hypocrisy please. The racist NPT is yesterday's news. No one will mourn its demise for it has the same historical standing as apartheid and Jim Crow.

Rajat Talwar
Rolla, Mo