Why don’t they feel the pain?

Ever wonder why poor nations are poor and rich nations are rich? I don’t. I believe I know why the poor stay poor and the rich get rich. Consider this from The Wall Street Journal of Jan 19th. The report is titled India and US to Improve Ties. Here is an excerpt:

Washington also sees India becoming a big buyer of U.S.-made arms. In the past two years, India has purchased roughly $200 million of American arms and is in negotiations to purchase P3 Orion maritime-patrol aircraft from the U.S. The deal, valued at about $1 billion, could be the biggest arms deal ever between the two nations.

There you have it. The rich sell arms to the poor and the poor pay for it through the blood, sweat, and tears of its starving millions. To be sure, it is not the starving millions who are interested in fighting the poor of the neighboring countries. These millions of poor unfortunates are merely the slave labor that supply through their toil goods that the rich buy in exchange for the arms they ship to the armies of the poor nations.

It is interesting to ask who exactly wants war. Speaking personally, I am against aggression and don’t wish to be the victim nor the perpetrator of aggression. I also believe that the vast majority of people would happily live and let live. So how does it happen that nations arm themselves to the teeth and more often than not beggar their neighbors and themselves in doing so.

I believe it is so because nations are not monolithic entities. People have different stations in a country. The generals who wage wars and the politicians who direct the ship of state do not have to pay for the wars themselves. The poor have to die on the battle fields and those who are not paid to die, starve on the streets so that their meager production can be shipped out to pay for the weapons of mass destruction that the leaders of the nation buy for their own amusement.

The leaders who make the decisions do not feel the pain that the ordinary citizen feels. The leaders are shielded from the effects of their own folly. And so it goes. Now in the Indian subcontinent we have two desperately poor heavily armed hugely overpopulated countries. In time to come it would be hard for people to imagine what was the reason behind this sort of stockpiling of nuclear weapons by such impoverished people. I think that it ceases to be a puzzle when one considers that those who do the stockpiling of nuclear weapons and those who are poor constitute entirely disjoint sets.

The unfortunate thing is that as weapons become more sophisticated and hence more expensive, the poorer the poor of the poor countries become. And at the same time, and understandably so, the rich of the rich nations and the rich of the poor nations become wealthier.

Look carefully at the military-industrial complex of a rich nation such as the US. General Dynamics GD (or some such company which makes, say, figher jets) invests a couple of billion dollars to build F15s (Note: all names are made up.) Let’s say that F15s are the last word in the world of fighter planes. So the US military buys 200 of these killing machines for $50 million a pop. So will GD now have to retire their assembly line and stop making a killing? Not really likely. so they sell a few hundred of these to the allies of the US. Now will they stop? Not bloody likely.

Here is what they do. Now that they are done with selling to the US military and to the militaries of friendly countries, they tell the US government, “Look, everyone has F15s. We need F16s if we have to maintain air superiority.” So they start working on developing the next generation. So the US now has F16s, which are better than the F15s. What about selling the F15s to those third world countries that keep fighting amongst themselves? Sweet deal.

Enter India and Pakistan. India buys F15s from the US or its equivalent from say the French; Pakistan goes for the other. So now both India and Pakistan are forced to keep up with the expensive sophisticated weapons that the US and other weapon manufacturing states create, only one generation behind. The weapons manufacturers in the rich countries systematically upgrade their technology and create even more lethal weapons which cost unimaginable amounts. Poor third world overpopulated impoverished nations around the world — who cannot afford to feed their starving millions — buy weapons of mass destruction from rich nations who can afford to replace their weapon systems as frequently as a rich man replaces his cars.

The poor overpopulated misgoverned third rate countries follow the simple policy of beggar-thy-neighbor and end up achieving destitution all round. India and Pakistan are prime example of this. Within India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, nearly a billion highly impoverished malnourished illiterate people scratch out a Hobbesian existence. Yet, these countries spend billions in acquiring ever more sophisticated arms from abroad. The sheer insanity of this is so incomprehensible that it is surreal. Consider this report from The Times of India of Jan 21st, 2004: Gorshkov is launch pad for nuke deal

… while India’s $1.5 billion purchase of the Gorshkov [an aircraft carrier] from Russia may seem like a big deal, the fact is it’s just a sweetener for the main course. On the anvil: a major beefing up of India’s nuclear delivery capability, with Russia likely to lease at least two nuclear submarines and several N-capable bombers to India.

I will spare you the rest of this front-page article. It is dismal reading for anyone who is even remotely aware of the hunger and deprivation of the people of this region of the world.

Can you imagine how much human suffering can be avoided by merely spending a few billion dollars in say bringing pure drinking water, schools for all children, food for the malnourished kids, contraceptive services for women, and so on …?

These are the weapons of mass destruction — these weapons destroy whether they are actually used in conflict or not. Merely buying them condemns hundreds of millions to lives of such misery that one wonders whether it would not be better for the weapons to be used so as to put an end to the misery.

Is there a way out? I think that the leaders of impoverished countries should be required to feel the pain that the poor routinely feel. I think that anyone who wishes to be a leader has to spend a month every year living the life of an average person in the bottom decile of the population. For instance, they should have no access to clean drinking water for that month, have no heating or airconditioning, no toilets, inadequate food, have to live in filth, and no medical services. Clearly these worthies lack imagination and so they should have to live the life for just one month every year that they wish to be leaders of poor overpopulated impoverished countries.

Perhaps then, maybe then, they would be not so gung-ho about buying nuclear aircraft carriers and submarines.

11 thoughts on “Why don’t they feel the pain?

  1. Suhit Anantula Wednesday January 21, 2004 / 7:53 pm



    That was a very important statement. This needs to be a headline!!! A big one!!!



  2. Suhit Anantula Wednesday January 21, 2004 / 7:56 pm


    Missed it in the last one.

    “These are the weapons of mass destruction — these weapons destroy whether they are actually used in conflict or not.

    That was a very important statement. This needs to be a headline!!! A big one!!!



  3. divya Thursday January 22, 2004 / 6:26 am

    I agree with your views completely. However, I am not sure if the money not spent in such futile chest beating would actually be useful. Given the wide spread corruption everywhere, the governmnet officials will find creative ways of pocking the whole lot of money.. perhaps even more creative than the Telgi Paper Scam.


  4. Karun Thursday January 22, 2004 / 8:19 pm

    Hi Atanu,

    So let’s solve development issues ourselves instead of relying on the govt! I know that is what you are involved in, and there can be more of us in the effort.

    My suggestion is vocational training for people to learn modern skills. Some take my suggestion and convert it into a government program, but my suggestion is that we need competitive private trainers, and the market should monitor the effectiveness of each and direct loans to the ones that prove effective. The government cannot know everything and we need to discover what works through experiment.

    Check out our new grassroots campaign to bring awareness! We have 14 cities around the world and 50 sign ups so far. See http://www.k-capital.com.




  5. Desi Bhai Monday January 26, 2004 / 8:55 pm

    As you said
    “So now both India and Pakistan are forced to keep up with the expensive sophisticated weapons that the US and other weapon manufacturing states create, only one generation behind.”

    Not only do they ALWAYS stay a generation or two behind, they end up spending valuable foreign exchange in buying OVERPRICED weaponry. If instead, they had invested that money in their own research (over a period of time), they could catch up and lead instead of always staying a generation or two behind…


  6. Rohit Rajaraman Wednesday January 28, 2004 / 6:23 am

    Come to think of it, I guess this concept can be extended to most of the things we import- cars, computers etc. (not the actual item necessarily, but the technology)


  7. Naveen Bachwani Wednesday January 28, 2004 / 6:15 pm


    As a business management student in ’97-’98, I remember being shocked at learning that India’s defence budget was in excess of Rs. 28,000 crores ! And that was then. God knows how massive that allocation is today.

    But, for all that shock, I never thought of this problem from the point of view that these “weapons destroy whether they are used or not”.

    As always, your perspective provides an interesting twist in an age-old problem…



  8. Venkat Ramanan Wednesday January 28, 2004 / 10:22 pm

    Atanu, wonderful thought! inspite of so many of you, crying hard, why aren’t the people at centre showing any effort in improving basic education and infrastructural amenities? we in chennai are crying for water and better roads while a cool billion dollars is being pocketed by US for merely giving a few WMDs, and then India also has to face the Outsourcing law, can’t the people sense the cunning nature of the west? why should all the countries be dependent on the west? can’t we develop a self-sustainable development model, which has lesser influence from the west? because, the IT development now spoken of, is just a few jobs that have been sent to India, mostly back office processing. they haven’t recognised our talents there in the US, but are merely paying us peanuts and employing us. nothing really worthy has taken off, to feel India Shining, when we people in cities cry for amenities. something has to be done, or else, we may escape a little earlier, while the generations to follow may have to suffer heavily for the mistakes we have been doing


  9. ravi srinivas Monday February 2, 2004 / 1:50 pm

    on weapons and arms race i agree that these are not only drain on our resources today but we are getting suck in a vicious cycle.the mighty USSR crumbled because it spent too much on arms and armed forces.and about the military-industry complex the less said the better it is.see


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